Darayya under fire as regime closes in, ‘feels like a military victory is at hand’

In its fourth year under siege, with regime forces chipping away at its perimeter, Darayya, 8km west of Damascus, is on the verge of collapse.

"Each day, the space for civilians shrinks,” an official with Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, who requested anonymity, tells Syria Direct’s Omar al-Khatib.

Darayya, among the first Syrian cities to rise up in 2011, is symbolically important for the revolution and strategically important to the regime. The town lies next to several military installations, including the Mezzeh Military Airport and the 4th Armored Division base.

The regime has reportedly dropped more than 6,600 barrel bombs on Darayya since encircling it in 2012.

On June 9, Darayya received aid for the first time in nearly four years. Reports subsequently emerged that 20 barrel bombs were dropped by regime helicopters as residents gathered to receive the aid.

Last week regime forces advanced a half-kilometer into Darayya.

For opposition forces Darayya became a symbol of resistance. For the regime it is the final pocket to be cleared west of Damascus.

"The reality is the regime is no longer interested in negotiating with us, it feels like a military victory is at hand.”

Q: Could you describe the developments of the last 48 hours?

On Sunday there was relative calm. Throughout the day there was periodic sniper fire and bombing, although both were fairly limited.

In the last 24 hours, however, the regime unleashed a large assault on Darayya. The attack included an increased bombing tempo. Twelve barrel bombs, four missile strikes and eight surface-to-surface rockets have fallen on the city.

Before attempting a ground advance, the regime launched a barrage of bullets from the west of the city.

The ground advance started at 1:00pm Monday and continued until 9:00pm. Opposition fighters were able stave off the advance, which killed two militants and one civilian.

 Rebel fighter moves through Darayya's rubble. Photo courtesy of Liwa Shuhada al-Islam.

Q: Where do these military developments leave the humanitarian situation?

Things remain terrible and continue to regress. Since the regime began assaulting Darayya, the UN hasn’t resumed any aid there. The UN aid program was ended almost as soon as it began.

Q: Could you explain why it is that we see relatively low civilian casualties despite the heavy bombardment of Darayya?

For one, the vast majority of Darayya's population has fled. So relative to the size of Darayya, which was home to 80,000 people, there are only slightly more than 8,000 civilians in the city. Each day, the space for civilians shrinks.

While most of the buildings in Darayya have been turned into rubble, some cellars have been turned into civilian shelters.

Q: When we talk about the humanitarian situation in Darayya, how many civilians are we talking about?

The number of civilians living under siege in Darayya is 8,300 civilians. This number was taken shortly before humanitarian aid entered the city, on June 9.

Q: Could you describe the medical and food situation in Darayya?

As for medical supplies, there are none.

The food supplies in Darayya are dwindling. The regime is targeting agricultural land and capturing large swaths of farmland west of Darayya. This last piece of farmland served as the breadbasket for Darayya's residents throughout the encirclement.

As a whole, what remains of Darayya's food supplies is meager, at best.

Q: What is the status of negotiations with the regime?

A committee was formed inside Darayya to deal with negotiations. The reality is the regime is no longer interested in negotiating with us. It feels like a military victory is at hand.

In the past, the regime has requested concessions from us which were on the verge of impossible for us to carry out. Its latest stipulations have proven a lack of seriousness on their part. They have demanded total surrender.

Given our desperation, we would welcome any reasonable attempt to mitigate the violence.

Q: What are you requesting from other rebel factions?

Generally, we are in need of reinforcements, but we are asking for the rebels in southern Syria to place more pressure on the regime. If they applied military pressure to the regime in Daraa and Quneitra, we would see relief in Darayya.

Ultimately this is in their interest. If Darayya falls, it won’t be the end. Eventually the regime will move on to focus on retaking southern Syria. The regime’s acquiescent stance in the south won’t last.

Omar al-Khatib

Omar was an information technology student in Damascus when the revolution began. He was forced to discontinue his studies in 2013 and moved to Jordan. Omar received an online diploma in Political Science from Asia University. Omar worked also as a freelance interpreter for scholars conducting research in Jordan.

David Leestma

David Leestma studied International Relations at Grand Valley State University. His studies took him to Lebanon, as well as Morocco and Oman with the Critical Language Scholarship in 2014 and 2015. Before joining Syria Direct as a full time reporter, David interned with Syria Direct as a translator and collaborated with ISW to produce the Syria Situation Report.