Civilians under threat on new Syrian front line
What is happening in southern Syria? This is a question being posed as a result of surprise developments in the field. Russia has launched intensive raids on areas controlled by armed opposition factions in the southern Syrian countryside of Daraa for the first time since it agreed to a cease-fire in the area almost a year ago. Parts of the provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Suwayda are covered by a de-escalation agreement between Russia, the US and Jordan. Has this agreement collapsed? Are we going to witness a race to escalate the military situation or will there be a new international deal?
On the ground, a mass exodus was reported following intensive bombing by regime forces, which caused many casualties, and concentrated bombing by its Russian allies, forcing thousands to flee toward the Jordanian border. This escalation prompted the UN to warn against catastrophic consequences, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres even spoke of what he sees as significant threats to security in the Middle East if the escalation continues, especially since the south of Syria is a front that also concerns both Jordan and Israel.
It would even put pressure on Jordan because of the need for Amman to resolve the problem of its Syrian refugees
A possible meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a NATO summit next month is likely to see this issue discussed. Until now, the prospects of success of the Assad forces’ attempt to regain control of the southern front are unknown, amid talk of a Russian-Israeli deal that provides for the rebels’ surrender. It is certain, though, that such a deal would not take place without American approval, especially since Washington sponsored several opposition factions in southern Syria.
Daraa is important on many levels. For the regime, the area has a symbolic value as it is the cradle of the revolution, and regaining control of it would achieve an element of revenge. Moreover, recapturing Daraa would restore Assad’s control of the Syrian border with Jordan and undermine the Jordanian role in the conflict. It would even put pressure on Jordan because of the need for Amman to resolve the problem of its Syrian refugees.
Assad also aspires to regaining full control of the front with Israel. The Israeli approval of this step under the deal with Moscow is a survival instrument for Assad to remain in power.
The Syrians, who are either suffering bitterly in danger and humility at home or wandering other countries in search of asylum, know that the military option to overthrow the regime has finally been closed by international powers. They also realize that the fate of the southern front depends on the same equation. This front remained quiet while other rebellious areas were brought back under control, and the US and other supply chain supervisors were only supporting them to maintain the status quo.
So the issue is not about strategic calculations, but primarily about the humanitarian price of the next confrontation, if it happens; and from the last few days there has been a massive movement of people. Previous battles have proved that the decision to surrender is implemented only after fierce and brutal battles with Assad’s forces, because genocide and displacement are essential parts of the doctrine and practice of this regime — and also because international and regional actors cannot impose their will and ultimately give in to the brutality of Assad.
- Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. Twitter: @dianamoukalled