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.


Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

Updated 34 min 3 sec ago
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Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

  • The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
  • Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital.

BEIRUT: Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday on one of their centers in the northern province of Aleppo, the White Helmets said.
The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital, it wrote on Twitter.
Founded in 2013, the White Helmets are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.
The Al-Hader center lies in a part of Aleppo province controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an extremist organization whose main component was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“At around 2:00 am, an armed group stormed the Al-Hader center, blindfolded the staff members who were on the night shift, and killed five of them,” said Ahmad Al-Hamish, who heads the center.
“Two others were wounded and another two were able to flee. The attackers were masked and escaped after stealing some equipment and generators,” he said.
It was unclear whether the attack was a robbery-gone-wrong or if the center and its crew had been specifically targeted.
More than 200 White Helmets rescuers have been killed in Syria’s seven-year war, usually in bombing raids or shelling on their centers.
While attacks like the one on Saturday are rare, they have happened before.
In August, seven White Helmets members were killed in a similar attack in the town of Sarmin, in neighboring Idlib province.
Most of Idlib is held by HTS, as well as a part of Aleppo and the adjacent province of Hama.
Tensions are on the rise there, with a wave of intra-opposition assassinations and clashes leaving at least 20 rebels dead in 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“You cannot separate the Al-Hader incident from the assassinations and other killings that have been happening more and more in recent weeks in areas under HTS control,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The population of Idlib province has swelled to more than two million people as a result of massive transfers of rebels and civilians from onetime opposition zones elsewhere in the country.
The killings come as the White Helmets are facing a “freeze” on funding from the United States, which is still reviewing over $200 million earmarked for stabilization in Syria.