AMMAN — With renewed clashes in the city of al-Sanamayn in northern Daraa, tensions between Syrian government forces and armed militant groups have risen to unprecedented levels. Daraa has not experienced violence at this scale since the signing of the so-called settlement (or reconciliation) agreement between the Syrian government and armed groups in July 2018—mediated by Russia—allowing government forces to take control over southern Syria. 

As government forces attempted to storm the city of al-Sanamayn yesterday, militants kidnapped military officers and security forces personnel in several cities and towns across the province. Meanwhile, demonstrations against the government took place in Daraa (al-Balad), Busra al-Sham, al-Jizah, al-Hrak, and Kiheel in the eastern countryside of Daraa. 

Damascus ratchets up its military efforts 

The government’s military operation targeted the western neighborhoods of al-Sanamayn, which fall under the control of armed groups formerly affiliated with opposition factions before the signing of the settlement agreement.

A resident of the al-Sanamayn spoke to Syria Direct under the condition of anonymity for security reasons, describing the situation in al-Sanamayn yesterday as “very bad on humanitarian and security levels.”

A video shared on social media showed a tank roll through a neighborhood of the city, while soldiers patrolled one of the streets. 

Since Saturday, Damascus has begun to mobilize its military forces from the 4th and 9th Divisions and the Military Security, along with local militias comprised of al-Sanamayn residents who joined the government forces after the settlement process. 

According to a member of the negotiating committee in Daraa province, which was formed in accordance with the reconciliation agreement, the government's operation comes in response to the “rise in military operations that target pro-government forces and their affiliates in the city, as well as the armed clashes that took place between regime loyalists and opposition members within the city.”

A recent report on “Protests in Daraa” showed that al-Sanamayn witnessed the highest number of military attacks against the government forces in southern Syria between November 5, 2019, and January 11, 2020. According to local sources who spoke to Syria Direct, these attacks were justified on the grounds that the government failed to fulfill its obligations as per the reconciliation agreement, especially the release of detainees.

Most prominent protest areas in Daraa province, by type of protest (5/11/2019 - 19/1/2020)

At the same time, the member of the negotiating committee warned that “the fighting in al-Sanamayn forebodes dangerous tribal strife that the regime is trying to sow in the city, by involving its residents who are fighting within its ranks in the battle against the opposition in the same city.” 

Attacks continue with no end in sight

In response to the government’s military campaign, unidentified militants captured four officers from the Fourth Division after a raid on their headquarters in the town of Sahm al-Jowlan in the western countryside of Daraa. Two members belonging to government forces were also captured in the town of al-Karak al-Sharqi in the eastern countryside of Daraa.

At an Air Force Intelligence checkpoint known as “Tabilne,” located between the cities of Tafas and Da’el in the western countryside of Daraa, several soldiers were captured following an attack by armed groups, as shown in a video taken by activists in Daraa. Government forces responded by bombing the city of Tafas, resulting in the deaths of three civilians. 

Last night, several government and security services checkpoints across Daraa were also subject to sustained attacks. These attacks took place primarily in the city of Jasem in northern Daraa, the town of Nafaa to the west, the town of al-Sahwa, and on the road between the towns of Umm Walad and Jbaib in the eastern countryside of Daraa. 

The military escalation by government forces in al-Sanamayn, along with the reprisal attacks, leaves the fate of Daraa uncertain. “Daraa is on the brink of a second revolution,” the member of the negotiating committee said, “especially with calls for the support of the residents of Houran [southern Syria].”

 

A version of this report was published in Arabic and translated into English by Calvin Wilder