April 1, 2013

By Ahmed Kwider

Syrian rebels are scoring victories in Daraa province after uniting Islamist battalions under the banner of the FSA and gaining access to more weapons and fighters, activists have said.

0401MapDaraa
The Syrian government maintains control over a key triangle of towns: Izraa, Noa and Sheikh Maskeen and has stationed outside Sheikh Maskeen to prevent rebels from moving north to Damascus.
The most recent capture of the town of Dael on Friday forced a retreat of Assad’s forces, 40 percent of which are deployed in Daraa province, a few kilometers up the Damascus highway to the town of Sheikh Maskeen. The rebel victory at Dael cuts the city of Daraa off from from Assad’s forces, though the government still maintains full control of a triangle of the key towns (see map) of Izraa, Noa and Sheikh Maskeen.

Regime forces have now blocked the highway at Sheikh Maskeen. Unfriendly terrain and regime-controlled areas surrounding the highway means that the road to Damascus, which begins at the Jaber border crossing with Jordan, is the only way to the capital.

“These victories came after the rebels battalions united,” said Allaith Al-Jamus, a citizen journalist from the “Reveal the regime’s acts against Syrians” facebook network in Syria.

The rebels are winning because of the merger “between FSA and Islamist battalions and also with Jabhat al-Nusra,” said Hud bin Laden, a member one of the Islamist battalions stationed in Daraa province, who uses the nom de guerre of the former head of Al-Qaeda.

Jabhat a-Nusra is different from the other Islamist battalions, bin Laden said, because their members are non-Syrians. “They work secretly,” the fighter said, adding that “they are on the front line facing the regime.”

Fighters are also being more strategic about what they target, and make sure to collect weapons and ammunition from sites they capture. The FSA has acknowledged that they can no longer afford to wait for the international community to arm them, said Kaisar Habib, an activist who moves around Daraa to report on events.

“Now what they’re [the FSA] is doing is targeting what the government’s military forces own and liberating [commandeering] it.”

The Jordan connection

It is not just captured weapons – the FSA in the south is clearly more armed than in was in recent months. Daraa-based activists interviewed for this article say that could not have happened without the tacit approval of the Jordanian government.

“There are fixed conditions from both [Jordan and the FSA] to transfer weapons to the FSA,” al-Jamus said. “Everything is happening with the knowledge of the Jordanian government; they give sometimes and other times they refuse because of their moderate political view,” al-Jamus says.

Ahmed al-Na’meh heads the FSA’s Military Council for Daraa province and is now based in Jordan. He is a controversial figure, as rebels in Daraa have blamed him for being a stooge of the Jordanian and Western governments. Al-Na’meh was stripped of his post for not procuring a sufficient number of weapons, but then resinstated at the Jordanian government’s insistence. “He cannot do anything without the Jordanian government’s knowledge,” said Daraa fighter Hud bin Laden.

Reflecting a sentiment this reporter heard while talking to a range of activists in Daraa, citizen journalist Kaisar Habib said al-Na’meh takes orders from other countries. “The Daraa Military Council submits to the Jordanian government.”