More than two years passed since striking the deal of the so-called “Syrian South Agreement” in July 2018, which was signed between Russian and the opposition factions. The agreement provided that the factions will hand over their heavy weapons, while the regime forces will partially return to Daraa and Quneitra. After more than two years, a Russian patrol was attacked with an IED, which hit an armored vehicle on the al-Sahwa-al-Musaifra road in the east of Daraa province, last Thursday.
The attack resulted in damaging the vehicles without reporting casualties among the Russian soldiers. According to Alexander Grinkivitsh the head of the Russian Reconciliation Centre that belongs to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the incident took place as the Russian military police was conducting a joint patrol with the regime forces.
Forth Division and Iranian Militias
Following the attack against the Russian forces, the forces of the Forth Division, led by Maher al-Assad, have increased their deployment and checkpoints in the area that surrounds Darra, MENA sources reported. The checkpoints have conducted raids and arrest campaigns against previous opposition fighters whose situation was settled with the regime in the past two years. They also impose more security measures on entering and leaving the area.
In addition, the Forth Division’s forces have raided the town of al-Kirk of Daraa’s eastern countryside. The raid campaigns took place in the presence of local forces that belongs to the Fifth Corps affiliated with Russia. The aim of those raids is to catch the wanted men who attacked a checkpoint, killing 6 soldiers and a lieutenant colonel; they also captured 5 members of the regime forces in response to the regime forces’ threats of raiding Darra al-Balad.
Targeting the Russian patrol came as the new Russian command that came to region in the previous week assured the residents that the whole area will be returned to its original owners after expelling the Iranians from the Syrian south, MENA sources point out.
The sources confirmed that the reason behind changing the Russian leaders is the expansion of the Iran-backed military forces including the Forth Division and Air Force Security, and that the previous Russian commanders were not able to stop the Iran’s expansion in the western countryside of Daraa and in Quneitra.
Compromise and Russian-Iranian Conflict
The regime forces, backed by Russian air force, took control over the southern region in August 2018, after imposing a settlement on those who want to stay in the south.
The settlement agreement provided that the opposition fighters who accept the agreement can stay, while those who rejected it will be deported to Idlib. It also provided that detainees should be released and the situation of wanted people would be settled, in addition to lifting the security measures imposed on the area and expelling the non-Syrian forces, in reference to the Iranian militias. However, most of those conditions were not implemented by the regime forces, which kept the situation in the south unstable.
The conflict between Russia and Iran over the areas of influence in southern Syria began after the settlement agreements were signed a few years ago, when the opposition factions agreed to hand over the areas of their control in Daraa to the regime, in exchange for settling the status of their members, while those who refused the settlement went to the Idlib in the north of the country.
Since last May, the Russians have hindered attempts by the regime forces to storm the areas of 2018 settlement agreement, such as the southwestern countryside, Kanaker in the southwestern Damascus countryside, the Harak and Daraa al-Balad. That happened after the central committees contacted the Russian command and sent Russian officers to control the situation, informed sources confirmed earlier to MENA.
Due to the pressure exerted by the Russian police and the local forces supporting them, the Iranian presence in southern Syria, Daraa and Quneitra, began to decline. The groups supported by Tehran were repositioned and their deployment points were separated from each other by checkpoints of the Fifth Corps.
MENA sources indicate that “the Iranian presence on the border with Israel is the major problem, and Moscow is trying to limit the influence of Tehran and the groups supported by it in those areas, so they will not turn into a direct Israeli-Iranian conflict arena”. “These groups started to get weaker during the previous period,” MENA Sources confirmed.
Since those settlements, Daraa witnesses limited but very frequent protests against Assad forces and dozens of attacks and assassinations on a monthly basis. The assassinated are previous fighters in the FSA (Free Syrian Army), some of whom have joined the ranks of the regime forces. Assassinations are being conducted with IEDs, direct shooting, kidnapping or field execution.
According to human rights sources, since June 2019, the number of attacks and assassinations reached 757, while the number of those killed during these attempts during the same period reached 497, 138 of whom were civilians, including 12 female citizens, and 15 children.
Last October, assassination rate has increased in Daraa, as the Martyrs Documentation Office in Daraa documented: 41 assassinations and attempted assassinations, during which 33 people were killed, while 6 others were wounded, and 2 survived the assassination attempt. Note that this statistic does not include the attacks against regime forces’ checkpoints and convoys.
In the most notable news of the south, seven mayors of the Assad regime were assassinated, the last of which was the head of al-Sanamein city council in the Daraa countryside, Abd al-Salam al-Haimed, and the secretary of the party division, Muhammad Diab; both were shot by unknown person.
In mid-October, unknown persons assassinated Adham al-Karrad, nicknamed “Abu Qusay,” the former leader of the Free Army and a member of the Central Committee was killed in addition to four other former leaders of the Free Army. It is noteworthy that the areas in southern Syria were under the control of the armed opposition before it held reconciliations with the Assad government more than two years ago.