In response to the outbreak of violence in Israel, Gaza and southern Lebanon since 7th October, several Iranian-backed militias in south-west Syria have ramped up their operations against Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights. A number of these groups have sent reinforcements into south Syria, while others conducted drone flyovers and launched rocket barrages toward Israel. Although the Assad regime has permitted Iranian-backed militias to use its bases for training and housing troops across south-west Syria, military units and local authorities have little or no power to rein in the activities of Iranian militias acting on Syrian territory. Israel has responded with several retaliatory strikes targeting launch-sites or command posts used by Iranian-backed actors—but Tel Aviv has also made it clear that it will also hold regime forces responsible for attacks against Israeli-held territory from within Syria. In Damascus, Assad is both unwilling to escalate and unable to assert control over the situation in the south.
Map – Recent Developments in South Syria
Cross-border hostilities have continued to intensify in southern Syria, with the border strip between Quneitra and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights experiencing regular instances of tit-for-tat violence between Israeli forces and Iranian-backed militias. Amid the hostilities, Hezbollah has redeployed fighters to several positions in Daraa and Quneitra. In response to repeated attacks by Iranian-backed militias, Israeli forces launched retaliatory strikes against sites in the Yarmouk Basin as well as Damascus International Airport between 19th and 25th October. Israeli forces have started preventing anyone from approaching the border strip between the occupied Golan Heights and Syrian territory. Additionally, Israeli reconnaissance aircraft have conducted intensive daily flyovers in parts of Quneitra province while dozens of Israeli tanks have been deployed along the border strip with the Golan.
In the weeks since Hamas’ 7th October attack on Israel, the Syrian regime transferred hundreds of troops from the north-west to Daraa and Quneitra in the south. It also vastly tightened security measures around Quneitra, preventing anyone from outside the province from entering. Following Israeli strikes that killed at least 15 regime officers, the regime placed a heavy security cordon around military headquarters south of Izraa.
The regime announced that it will open the door to settlements for residents of the northern countryside of Quneitra and several towns around Mount Hermon, starting from the end of October. Wary of regime intentions and potential abuses by the security apparatus, local communities in south-west Syria have not participated in past rounds of settlement agreements in significant numbers.
Smuggling season has returned to southern Syria, with a significant spike in activities already observed in areas along the Syrian-Jordanian border. In response, groups under the leadership of Ahmad al-Awdeh have ramped up actions against smuggling groups and conducted several raids across Daraa province, making arrests and seizing dozens of kilos of Captagon. While the cross-border drug smuggling industry has steadily increased in recent months ahead of the peak winter season, drug consumption and abuse is also on the rise among regime troops.
Instability in South Syria
High levels of violence continue to plague south-west Syria, with rising numbers of explosive attacks and armed assassinations targeting a wide range of civilian and military targets in the region. The frequency of IEDs and car bomb ambushes have climbed across south Syria in recent weeks. At least two regime troops were killed and 15 others injured in a series of IED attacks that took place across Quneitra and Daraa provinces. Assassinations claimed the lives of over 24 individuals including civilians, regime soldiers, Military Intelligence officers, former opposition leaders, Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) members and drug traffickers.
Following the mass-casualty attack on a regime military college in Homs last month, officials ordered imams across Daraa to hold absentee funeral prayers for those killed in the attack. However, only five mosques out of more than 450 in the province actually followed the order, signaling a rare display of widespread disobedience from the local religious establishment.
Nearly 5,000 people fled towns along the border strip near the occupied Golan Heights in anticipation of Israeli bombardments. Meanwhile, at least 85 young people from Daraa and Quneitra arrived in Italy in the first half of October, with more than 3,000 others from the region reportedly waiting to make the trip from Libya. Groups of people from south-west Syria are still arriving to European countries on an almost daily basis.
Anti-regime protests continue to take place in the south, where crowds are now also expressing their solidarity with the people in Gaza. Toward the end of the month at least 1,700 total protesters attended demonstrations in Daraa and Suwayda.
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