April 23, 2014
Earlier this month, Syrian rebels in the small, southwestern province of Quneitra announced the start of what they titled the “Echo of Anfal” campaign, a reference to the ongoing “Anfal” battle underway Latakia province.
The Quneitra fighting has centered on the al-Ahmar hills in the north, which regime forces have for months used as a base from which to bombard rebel positions. Opposition fighters claim to have seized the hills’ western section—including a major regime arms depot—and are now shifting their attention to the province’s east.
“The battle started in order to decrease pressure on other fronts such as Qalamoun and the coast,” says a 46-year-old general in Quneitra’s rebel Golan Storm Brigade who requested anonymity. Rebels around Syria do not officially coordinate battles, but one thing they do agree on, the general explains to Mohammad al-Haj Ali, is that “coordination is a matter of exerting pressure on other fronts, and looking to open new fronts to ease the pressure from regime forces by forcing them to spread out.”
Earlier this month, rebels captured a major regime arms depot in Quneitra's al-Ahmar hills. Photo courtesy of Soryoon.
Q: We’ve seen an increase in fighting in Quneitra province over the past few weeks, and one activist told us that rebels had launched a campaign because the necessary weapons became available. Is that the case?
The battle started not because weapons were available, but in order to decrease the pressure on other fronts like Qalamoun and the coast. Another reason was the longstanding siege that rebels have imposed on regime forces in the western al-Ahmar hills, and the regime’s constant usage of the western and eastern al-Ahmar hills to fire on rebel fighters in the area. It’s an extension of previous battles, with the goal of liberating the province.
Q: What is the connection between this fighting and the battle on the coast?
The connection between us is that we all want to liberate Syria and remove this barbaric gang—not through direct coordination, but through indirect support. Syria’s various fronts don’t have any military or logistical coordination; the coordination is a matter of exerting pressure on other fronts, looking to open new fronts to ease the pressure from regime forces by forcing them to spread out. But there’s no direct coordination—this battle was planned before the Anfal campaign, but security considerations led us to postpone the battle, at which point we named the campaign in support of Anfal.
Q: What is the strategic importance of al-Qunietra province?
The strategic importance of Quneitra is just like the importance of other provinces in Syria—it is part of our homeland—and also that it is close to Damascus. Our most important goals are to control the artillery bases and the hills, from which the regime is shelling civilians; after that we’ll liberate all the other areas. Quneitra is distinct from other areas in that it’s very difficult to attack because of the heavy fortification of military areas; the rest of the regime’s positions are not important because they will easily fall.
Q: How does al-Quneitra’s proximity to Israel affect the fighting there?
We as rebels don’t have any intentions toward Israel—we consider Israel our neighbor. Israel can decide after Assad’s fall whether there will be war or peace. For now, we leave each other alone. We don’t decide to go to war with neighboring countries—they are the ones who decide. Our first and only goal is to overthrow the regime.
Q: What is the geographical division of the areas under regime and rebel control?
A: The rebels control almost everything on the borders with conquered Golan except two points—the destroyed provincial Quneitra and Qahtania. Almost three quarters of the province is liberated.