Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

In early March 2011 more than a dozen Daraa youths, influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, scribbled slogans hostile to President Bashar Assad on the wall of their school. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2018
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Daraa province: cradle of Syrian revolt

  • Daraa province is one of the last centers of rebel forces in Syria, after they lost vast swathes of territory to the regime
  • Daraa had fallen into poverty, worsened by a years-long drought which prompted a rural exodus

PARIS: Syria’s southern province of Daraa, which could be the regime’s next target after its bloody reprisal of Eastern Ghouta, is the birthplace of the uprising which erupted in 2011.
This agricultural region lies south of Damascus and also shares borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
In early March 2011 more than a dozen Daraa youths, influenced by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, scribbled slogans hostile to President Bashar Assad on the wall of their school.
The regime reacted brutally, jailing them, and according to activists, torturing the boys.
The repression sparked an unprecedented uprising.
On March 15, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the first demonstrations for “a Syria free of tyranny ... a Syria without corruption or theft or monopoly of wealth” erupted in Damascus.
Back in the province’s main town, which has the same name, demonstrators attacked symbols of the regime, before the protest movement spilled over into neighboring towns.
On March 23 security forces killed at least 100 people, according to activists and witnesses.
Assad fired the unpopular town governor and local intelligence chief, but did not manage to calm the situation.
On April 26 the regime sent in the army as it sought to stamp out pockets of resistance.
The Daraa protest movement was crushed at the end of a 10-day military operation in which hundreds were arrested.
Human Rights Watch denounced “crimes against humanity,” pointing to systematic killings, beatings and torture.
Daraa province is one of the last centers of rebel forces in Syria, after they lost vast swathes of territory to the regime.
It is divided up between different opposition groups that control nearly 70 percent of it. The Daesh group and the regime retain a lesser presence.
Daraa town, the regional capital, is mainly in the hands of pro-government forces.
The province has regularly been the scene of fighting between regime forces and insurgents.
In 2016 loyalist forces, backed by Russian air power and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, retook Sheikh Miskin, a strategic crossroads from the north to Damascus and to regime-held Sweida in the east.
They then seized Atman village, a key location in the province.
In July 2017 a cease-fire came into force in Daraa as well as in the southern provinces of Quneitra and Sweida, brokered by Russia, Jordan and the US.
These three provinces are also among a series of “de-escalation zones” established by Russia and Iran, allies of the regime, and rebel-backer Turkey.
In the first months of the protests the demonstrators in Daraa denounced the economic policy of the government.
This included the telecoms company Syriatel, in which a cousin of Assad has a majority stake. Anti-corruption slogans were chanted in neighboring towns.
Daraa, a Sunni Muslim town which counted 75,000 inhabitants before the conflict began, had fallen into poverty, worsened by a years-long drought which prompted a rural exodus.
The province’s ancient city of Bosra Al-Sham was capital of the Roman province of Arabia and an important staging post on the old caravan route to Makkah.
Famous for its Roman theater and its paleochristian ruins, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In March 2015, rebels drove pro-regime forces out of Bosra’s Shiite neighborhoods.


Turkey orders 295 military personnel arrested over Gulen links

Updated 11 min 50 sec ago
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Turkey orders 295 military personnel arrested over Gulen links

  • Those facing detention included three colonels, eight majors and 10 lieutenants

ISTANBUL: Turkey ordered the arrest of 295 serving military personnel on Friday, the prosecutor’s office said, accusing them of links to the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated a 2016 attempted coup.

Those facing detention included three colonels, eight majors and 10 lieutenants, with around half of the suspects being in the army and the remainder in other military forces including the navy and air force, the statement said.

The prosecutor’s office said police launched simultaneous arrest operations at 1:00 a.m. (2200 GMT) under an investigation into pay phone calls between suspected Gulen operatives. It was not clear how many suspects have been detained so far.

About 250 people were killed in the failed putsch, in which Gulen, a former ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, has denied involvement. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial since the coup and widespread arrests are still routine. Authorities have suspended or sacked 150,000 civil servants and military personnel.

Turkey’s Western allies have criticized the crackdown, with Erdogan’s critics accusing him of using the putsch as a pretext to quash dissent. Turkish authorities say the measures are necessary to combat threats to national security.