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.


Court doubles sentence of Israeli policeman who killed Palestinian

Updated 26 min 2 sec ago
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Court doubles sentence of Israeli policeman who killed Palestinian

JERUSALEM: Israel’s top court on Sunday doubled the prison sentence of a police officer who shot dead a Palestinian teenager in 2014, an incident documented by video footage.
The supreme court ruling said the original nine-month prison term handed to Ben Deri by the Jerusalem district court earlier this year did not sufficiently reflect the severity of his actions.
Deri had admitted to fatally shooting Nadeem Nuwarah, 17, on May 15, 2014 during a day of clashes in Beitunia, south of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters.
The clashes were on the anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when more than 700,000 fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Footage recorded by US broadcaster CNN captured a group of five or six border police officers in the area, one of whom could be seen firing at the time when the youth was hit.
Some five minutes earlier, Nuwarah was seen on other CNN footage throwing stones at Israeli forces.
But when Deri shot him, he was not engaged in any such action, simply walking in the general direction of Deri’s force with his hands to his sides, the Sunday decision noted.
Deri had said during his trial he had mistakenly introduced live ammunition into his M-16 instead of rubber bullets.
But even the firing of rubber bullets was not justified at that point, the court said.
The April district court sentencing had “not sufficiently given expression to the value of the human life severed by Deri,” Sunday’s ruling read.
“The prison term sentenced by the district court is not close in expressing the severity of such an intentional deed, combined with the severe negligence that caused the deceased’s death,” supreme court justice Noam Solberg wrote in his decision, supported by another judge and opposed by one.
Right-wing legal aid organization Honenu, which represented Deri, said the supreme court’s ruling could “jeopardize the motivation and operational abilities of our soldiers.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that while Deri’s actions might have been wrong, “that doesn’t mean his punishment should be increased.”