Tension rises between local factions and Syrian government as latter attempts to disarm them
Tension has risen between Syrian government forces and local factions and residents in the al-Suwayda governorate, Southern Syria, due to the Syrian government's intention to disarm the factions, the constant kidnappings, and accusations of the Syrian government’s security services involvement.
Syrian government decides to disarm factions in al-Suwayda and describes them as “sectarian militias”
In mid-December 2018, Major General Ali Mamlouk, chief of the Syrian government’s National Security Office met dignitaries from al-Suwayda. Mamlouk asked for the dignitaries’ and Sheikhs’ (the high religious authority in al-Suwayda) suggestions about issues relating to al-Suwayda, including the spread of weapons, local factions, evaders of compulsory recruitment, and general security conditions.
The dignitaries explained to the security committee, headed by Mamlouk, the reasons that the young men of al-Suwayda evade compulsory recruitment. The dignitaries emphasized that not only local society but also the Syrian government’s security services are responsible for the insecurity in al-Suwayda.
The security committee blamed the residents and local society for the deteriorating situation in al-Suwayda. The committee stressed the need to disarm those who it called “sectarian militias,” referring to the local factions that do not belong to the Syrian government forces such as the Men of Dignity Movement and the Sheikh al-Karama Forces.
On November 25, 2018, Yaser al-Shufi, a member of the Regional Leadership in the al-Baath Socialist Arab Party met 300 people, including dignitaries from al-Suwayda, and suggested the deployment of the Syrian government forces’ checkpoints, allegedly to chase kidnappers and thieves. The dignitaries rejected the suggestion saying that the Syrian government knows those criminals and can chase them without the need to deploy checkpoints.
The Syrian government seeks to recruit young men from al-Suwayda who refuse to join the Syrian government forces. In October 2018, Maher al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, proposed an initiative that provided an offer to evaders of compulsory and reserve services. Young men wanted for compulsory recruitment rejected the initiative saying that it was “fake.”
Residents express indignation of Syrian government's decision to disarm local factions
The residents of the al-Suwayda governorate expressed indignation at the Syrian government's decision to disarm the local factions. Some of the residents said that those armed factions protected the area, amidst the Syrian government forces’ reluctance to do so. Other residents recalled the recent Islamic State (IS) attack on al-Suwayda that followed the Syrian government's demands to disarm the factions. The attack killed and injured hundreds of civilians.
A resident named Kareem commented on the security committee's demands to disarm the local factions, saying that the civilians own the weapons and they paid for the weapons to protect themselves. He also commented that the civilians did not use the weapons against the Syrian government forces. Kareem added that the Syrian government’s statements prove the residents’ fears of potential plots that could harm the interests of al-Suwayda.
al-Suwayda resident Basel, who is from the village of ‘Atil, four kilometers north of al-Suwayda, said that the disarming of the factions and residents poses a significant danger to the residents. Basel added that the Syrian government wants to disarm the residents whereas smugglers, kidnapping gangs, and IS members will preserve their arms to “get even with the residents of the area.”
Resident Rabi, from the city of al-Suwayda, said that he supports disarming all sides accused of kidnappings and drug dealing; however, he added that he refuses to disarm the factions, which defend the dignity of the residents of al-Suwayda.
A resident named Niddal, from the village of Rami, 20 kilometers east of al-Suwayda, said that they will not repeat their previous mistakes by handing their weapons to the Syrian government, like what happened before the IS attack on al-Suwayda that caused left hundreds of victims.
In July 2018, the Syrian government forces demanded the residents of villages in Eastern al-Suwayda to hand over their weapons, as the Syrian government forces withdrew from the area. The IS attacked the area soon after the Syrian government forces withdrew. The Syrian government sent reinforcements to the area 36 hours after the end of that attack, which killed 200 people and injured dozens of others. During the attack, the IS kidnapped 30 people, most of them were women and children.
Local factions accuse the Syrian government of planning assassinations in al-Suwayda
Local factions in al-Suwayda accused the Syrian government forces and security services of planning assassinations and other assaults in the governorate to restore the Syrian government’s security control. The factions raised the alert to prevent potential aggression.
The Bayrak al-Fahd faction of the Men of Dignity Movement said in a statement that they had information on the Syrian government’s intelligence services’ intention to conduct assassinations and kidnappings in al-Suwayda that are similar to the assassination of the former leader of the faction Wahid al-Bal’ous in 2015.
The statement added, “We prejudiced our wounds and shock following the massacre that killed dozens of innocents, but today our response to any aggression will be decisive.” The statement added that the aim of disarming the factions is to dissolve them and restore the tight grip of oppressive services, referring to the Syrian government’s intelligence.
The Sheikh al-Karama Forces faction that defected from the Men of Dignity Movement said that they had information on the Syrian government's intelligence services’ plans to arrest and assassinate commanders of the faction and other figures on charges of terrorism. These plans come as a prelude to the deployment of the Syrian government forces’ checkpoints in al-Suwayda to arrest young men who are wanted for compulsory recruitment.
The Sheikh al-Karama Forces faction accused the Syrian government of the IS attacks in al-Suwayda in July 2018, adding that the Syrian government accuses the people of al-Suwayda of treason and inaction due to their refusal to participate in killing Syrians.
Young men from al-Suwayda said that there are 40,000 young men wanted for compulsory recruitment, but they refuse to join the Syrian government forces ranks. In 2015, the Men of Dignity Faction issued a statement refusing the recruitment of young men from al-Suwayda. The statement added that young men who want to join the Syrian government forces are free to do so.
On Sunday, activists distributed hundreds of anti-Syrian government leaflets in the al-Suwayda governorate. Anti-Syrian government local movements reemerged in Southern Syria. People wrote anti-Syrian government slogans in cities and towns of the Daraa governorate and tore a photo of the Syrian president.