With fewer than 1,000 remaining, Darayya rebels ‘abandoned’ as regime advances

AMMAN: Syrian regime forces and allied militias have advanced a half kilometer into the encircled West Ghouta suburb of Darayya, the second major incursion into the opposition-held pocket in as many weeks, two rebel fighters in the suburb told Syria Direct on Monday.

Syrian army forces now control the entire eastern half of Darayya after advancing for nearly two days behind a steady barrage of surface-to-surface missiles, mortars and barrel bombs, Abu Bilal a-Deirani, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, told Syria Direct Monday.

“As things stand now, we have very little equipment and have suffered massive casualties,” said a-Deirani, adding that “there is a serious lack of both doctors and fighters” to stave off regime forces.

 
Regime forces bombard Darayya with ground-to-ground missiles, mortars and barrel bombs during Sunday’s assault. Photo courtesy of Shahab News Agency.

Syrian state media has not commented on the offensive in Darayya.

Fewer than 1,000 rebel fighters from the FSA’s Liwa Shuhada al-Islam and Ajnad a-Sham, an Islamist brigade, now remain in Darayya. Regime forces first encircled the suburb in 2012. More than 120 of these rebels have died in fighting since last August, said a-Deirani.

Darayya is located next to several regime military facilities, including the Mezzeh Military Airport and the 4th Armored Division base. The suburb is fewer than seven kilometers due south of Syria’s Presidential Palace.

The town is important not only symbolically as one of the first to rise up against the regime, but also because opposition forces once believed the foothold, surrounded by regime territory, could one day serve as a “launching pad into Damascus,” a-Deirani and others inside Darayya told Syria Direct.

Despite ostensibly being included in the cessation of hostilities agreement brokered by Russia and the United States this February, regime forces have continually bombarded Darayya, dropping more than 200 barrel bombs on the city during one week in June.

Although the language of the February ceasefire agreement also called for aid to enter Darayya and other besieged cities, no aid entered Darayya until June. When the first UN-sponsored food aid shipment did enter, it included “only enough to provide food for one month for only a third of the city’s population,” Darayya’s Local Council wrote in a Facebook post on June 15.

“During the ceasefire, the regime attempted to enter the city, killing and wounding hundreds of fighters and destroying their equipment,” Sayyed, a Liwa Shuhada al-Islam spokesman, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Late last month, Darayya rebels launched a night-time raid against regime checkpoints west of the city, temporarily breaking the blockade separating the suburb from neighboring Moadhamiyet a-Sham.

But the rebel victory would prove short-lived.

“The morning after we took control [of the checkpoints between Darayya and Moadhamiyet a-Sham] the regime deployed special forces and spread snipers throughout the area,” said a-Deirani.

“They brought in approximately 20 tanks and eight Shilkas,” he added. Shilkas are a type of Soviet-era anti-aircraft weapons systems that the regime uses in urban environments.

Over the following week, regime forces recaptured the lost checkpoints and advanced into southwest Darayya, capturing a half kilometer of agricultural land, the breadbasket for the rebel-held suburbs’ 8,000 residents, pro-regime al-Masdar news, citing a Syrian Arab Army military source, reported on June 24.

After its victory in Darayya’s southwest farms, regime authorities offered rebels safe passage to another rebel-held Damascus area if they surrendered, al-Masdar news reported the following day.

“We refused the offer,” said a-Deirani, without elaborating further.

Once negotiations broke down, the regime continued its advance, driving past the Abdel Nour mosque into the center of the rebel-held pocket on Sunday evening, a-Deirani and other fighters told Syria Direct.

As their frontlines collapse, Darayya rebels say they feel “abandoned.”

“From West Ghouta to Daraa province, no one has been able to launch an attack to help,” said a-Deirani.

“If the regime takes Darayya, it will kill its population and kill the revolution,” he added.

“This is a failure of leadership.”

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman. Follow Mohammad on Twitter: @mohamma59717689.

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.

Orion Wilcox

Orion Wilcox was a 2014-2015 CASA fellow in Amman, Jordan where he interned with the UNRWA Jordan Field Office. He received his BA in Economics and Arabic language from the University of Mississippi. Following the CASA program, Orion worked as a freelance translator and interpreter in Amman.