Hundreds of members of the Self-Defense Divisions, a new regime volunteer fighting force in Outer Damascus, graduated on Friday to become the first of a group meant to bolster dwindling regime ranks in the province.

“Self-Defense Divisions support the army, protect state institutions and direct citizens’ affairs” in Outer Damascus, one graduate told Syria Direct on Sunday.

Graduates ran a mock checkpoint, demonstrated weapons skills and fought off simulated attacks in Friday’s graduation, marching under Syrian and Baath party flags before a delegation of military and political leadership at an undisclosed Outer Damascus location in video and images posted online by state news agency SANA Friday.

“We are here, more than one thousand fighters, all of us farmers, laborers and employees to support the army,” one of the graduates told Syria Direct Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If we aren’t the army’s backup, who will be?”

Made up of men from around Outer Damascus, the new forces will be “a supporting division” for the Syrian army in the province, Deeb Sarhan, managing editor for Syria Scope, a pro-regime Damascus news site told Syria Direct Sunday.

“There is no age limit,” he added. “Any person with the will and motivation can join.”

The graduate that Syria Direct spoke to on Sunday confirmed that narrative: “Among us are people in their seventies, and others who are not yet of age for compulsory military service [18 years old].”

Volunteers will supplement or replace regular army personnel at checkpoints and perform other primarily defensive roles.

“The training was very short,” Sarhan said, as many members had previously completed their required military service.

It was not immediately clear whether the group will remain contained to Outer Damascus. Sarhan believes it “could be expanded to other areas at a later time.”

The Self-Defense Forces provide a badly needed infusion of manpower for regime forces, supplementing pre-existing pro-regime militias and regular army personnel that take offensive roles at fighting fronts.

Friday’s graduation came amidst reports of mass arrest and conscription campaigns of military-aged Damascus youth at flying checkpoints in the capital city, pro-opposition ARA News reported last week.

-Photo courtesy of SANA.