Dr. Ammar Kahf, Executive Director of Omran Center for Strategic Studies shared his analysis on TRT World regarding recent developments in Daraa al-Balad, the current talks brokered by the Russians, and the humanitarian conditions.
on the recent talks between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime in under the direct supervision of the Russian.
For more: https://bit.ly/3zWV6cQ
In a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born in Daraa in 2011, the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran-backed militias are once again attempting to violently subdue the Syrian provincial capital, which is considered the birthplace of the revolution that began a decade ago.
The most recent round of clashes was sparked by Syria’s May 31 illegitimate presidential elections. Several of Daraa province’s cities refused to participate in the elections and civilians took to the streets in protest.
On the day of the elections, the Syrian regime was forced to move the election center from the Baath Party Division building in Nawa city to the district center in the middle of the security square, where branches of the regime security agencies are located. This prompted the flight of most of the working members of the party’s division to the capital, Damascus, for fear of being targeted.
As a result, several neighborhoods in Daraa province were placed under a brutal siege. In late June, the Fourth Division of the Syrian army and other regime forces encircled the city and cut off all roads leading to Daraa al-Balad in the south, preventing the entry of food and medicine as well as the entry or exit of civilians. The regime and its allies proceeded to cut off electricity, water, and communications. One checkpoint remains open for residents, but it is under the control of the Military Security Branch and the Mustafa al-Kassem militia—a troubling scenario for civilians.
Daraa hasn’t witnessed a military campaign like this since the regime took control of the province in July 2018. Following that takeover, the region was divided into settlement areas, as happened in Daraa al-Balad, Busra al-Sham, Tafas, and other areas under regime control (MAP 1). Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) remained, forming sleeper cells, such as the Popular Resistance in the south—an armed group from Daraa province that was formed in November 2018—in several towns that refused the terms of a settlement with the regime, which exposed them to attacks. Other formations of the FSA joined the Fifth Corps—a volunteer-based force—under direct Russian control. The most prominent outgrowth was the Sunni Youth Forces, which now forms the forces of the Eighth Brigade in the Fifth Corps.
The complex reality of influence and control after the 2018 settlement
Despite the Assad regime’s control over Daraa since the 2018 settlement, the reality on the ground indicates that there are three spheres of influence in the province. The first is the area considered the center of negotiations between the opposition and regime, which is under direct Russian supervision. In this area, the regime maintained institutional control but was denied a security presence. The second sphere of influence comprises of settlements where the regime has all-out military control, such as Bosra al-Harir, al-Harak, Saida, and surrounding towns, as well as western areas like Jassem and Newa. Lastly, the third includes areas seized by the regime without signing a settlement agreement, such as Dael, Inkhil, and al-Hara.
Iran’s consolidation of influence in Daraa is one significant implication of this power diffusion. Via the Fourth Division, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and militias deployed in Daraa, Iran has successfully expanded its influence in the south and established a military presence in strategic locations near Syria’s southern border. Recent developments are further evidence of Russia’s failure to contain Iran in Daraa. While the Russians led the initial negotiations, Iran subsequently upended the process, empowering local allies to take military control of the province.
Daraa developments in light of the regime’s army being dispersed between Russia and Iran
Beginning on June 25, regime forces imposed a complete siege on the neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad (inhabited by approximately fifty thousand people): the internally displaced camp, Palestinian refugee camp, al-Sad Road, and the farms in the areas of Shiah, al-Nakhla, al-Rahiya, and al-Khawani. The siege is meant to punish civilians for ongoing demonstrations since 2018 and the refusal of Dara al-Balad residents to participate in the voting process. As the dispute escalated, the Central Committee of Daraa al-Balad met with Russian General Assad Allah, who threatened to storm dissenting neighborhoods but agreed to prevent Iran-backed forces from taking military action in the city.
After several meetings between the Central Committee and regime, the two parties agreed to hand over the remaining light weapons of former FSA fighters who are not part of the Fifth Corps in exchange for lifting the siege imposed on Daraa al-Balad and an end to the regime’s military campaign there. The two sides also agreed to construct a new settlement to clarify missing or gray areas in the 2018 settlement.
However, the agreement has not been implemented so far due to several obstacles created by Major General Husam Louka, the head of General Security Directorate, Brigadier General Ghaith Dalah, commander of the Fourth Division, and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub—all of whom have stated that the regime’s goal is absolute control over the entire neighborhood of Daraa al-Balad. This proclamation upset the Russians, who know Iran is escalating the conflict and attempting to strengthen the control of its local allies near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
It is possible to deduce several important points from the rapid developments in Daraa al-Balad during the past week:
Amidst this military escalation on Daraa al-Balad and the eastern and western countryside and the continuation of negotiations between the Central Committee and the regime, Daraa faces several scenarios.
A new settlement and forced displacement
The way the Assad regime dealt with the cities of Tafas and al-Sanamayn could foreshadow what happens in Daraa al-Balad in the coming days. After the regime attack on the city of al- Sanamayn in March, Russia intervened through the Fifth Corps to resolve the conflict and imposed a truce that ended with the deportation of fighters to the north; those who stayed have had to hand over weapons. In January, the same scenario occurred in Tafas, after the regime demanded that the people hand over light and medium weapons and that those who wished to leave Daraa go north.
According to this scenario, Russia may intervene to end the attack on Daraa al-Balad, put an end to the military operation, and sign a new agreement. However, the details and terms depend on the size of the Assad regime’s losses in the coming days. This seems to be the most realistic scenario for the regime, considering its accelerated losses and negotiations with the Central Committee of Daraa.
The area under the shadow of the Fifth Corps
The FSA’s recent success will give it an upper hand at the negotiating table. The Central Committee may negotiate a stop to the escalation in all towns and cities in return for stopping the military campaign, lifting the siege, and deploying checkpoints for the Fifth Corps in Daraa. Although this scenario is possible, it requires the approval of Russia and Jordan and it is unlikely that Iran and the regime will accept this scenario, which would threaten their control in the south.
Return to the 2018 settlement
If the Russians do not intervene in the coming days to stop the regime’s military campaign and the FSA continues to maintain the military escalation line and preserve its gains on the ground, the regime may turn to pre-June 25 conditions to prevent further losses and the further bolstering of the opposition. The situation at the time gave the regime full administrative control over the area but with very limited security control.
Worst case scenario: absolute control by the regime without any reconciliations or settlement
This scenario is best for the Assad regime and its ally Iran, which does not favor Russia. It depends on launching a vast military campaign on the neighborhood and imposing absolute control without referring to any new settlements, which will result in a massive campaign of arrests for the residents and will not even allow them to flee to the north of Syria. This scenario is preferable for Iran because it will create a large vacuum in the region that can be exploited by local allies at the administrative, military, and security level, which will therefore pose a major challenge to Russia in regard to controlling the Iranian presence near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
In the long run, this scenario will enhance the fragility of the security situation in the region for an array of reasons. This includes: an increase in assassinations against Iran’s allies in the region; the high incidence of clashes between members of the Eighth Brigade and Iran’s allies; and an increase in the number of Israeli attacks on Iran-backed forces. In sum, this scenario is considered the worst for Daraa and its people because it serves only Iran and its local allies from the regime.
The 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections have unanimously been described as a farce. It comes as no surprise that Assad stays in power for a 4th term, gaining 95% of votes. In an analysis of the legal, Syrian regional and international level, this paper sheds light on the many flaws, felonious procedures and violations of international law inherent in the presidential elections. Amongst others, the paper addresses the systematic exclusion of large parts of Syrian constituents, the regime’s deterrence of any real opposition, the lack of a safe voting environment, and therewith, on an international level, the neglect of the entire peace process that seeks a political and not a military solution to the conflict in Syria.
Looking into the near future of post-election Syria, the paper furthermore discusses what the elections mean for both Syrians and the Assad regime including possible strategies Assad might peruse to strengthen his power on a domestic and regional political level. Conclusively, a set of recommendations are provided regarding what the Syrian people may ask from the international community as a response to the 2021 Syrian Presidential Elections.
During the monitoring period, 812 projects and activities were implemented northern Syria’s opposition-held areas. Those areas include the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. This marks a 77% increase or 355 additional projects. The economic development sector expanded the most, with 193 projects. This is followed by the WASH sector with 165 projects. 154 projects were also implemented by the transportation and communications sector, as well as 119 projects for the internally displaced.
The report highlighted several trends during the monitoring period. Among the trends identified was the increase of economic activities in Idlib and its countryside by 55% (or 455 projects) compared to Aleppo and its countryside by 45%. (or 367 projects).
Coordination between local councils and non-government organizations continued, with several announcements of MOUs. This included the building of a hospital in the city of Soran, and the support for grain farmers with compound fertilizers and wheat seed in Akhtarin. The report also highlights the increase in job opportunities, most of which were in the health, IDP support in camps, and infrastructure projects. About 947 job opportunities were registered, most holding temporary contracts between 6-12 months.
Projects monitored in the report were further analyzed for strengths and weakness. Among the most notable strengths was the local councils’ focus on securing electricity for hard-to reach areas, in addition to rehabilitating many city centers, main roads, and markets. The most prominent weakness identified was the over-reliance by local councils on economic recovery funding from local and international organizations and only playing an intermediary role due to its limited budgets.
Based on findings, the report outlined a set of recommendations. Prime among recommendations was to enhance a holistic development strategy to include sectors that lack support and have not received adequate attention in the last period. The recommendations also highlighted the need to expand programs such as “Cash for work” and “e-voucher” that support small businesses and handcraft projects.
() Original paper published on March 15, 2021, in Arabic, https://bit.ly/3fhHMrU
Navvar Saban, a field expert at the Omran Center, said in his recent interview with FP "foreign policy" Since 2017, Iran focused on building and enhancing their relationships with different Syrian communities. It carried out its operations with a different approach towards infiltrating local communities, especially by purchasing real state in different provinces. Recently, Iran has been purchasing more properties in Deir Ezzor, in both regime and SDF held areas.
for more: http://bit.ly/3ceL8tY
After taking control east of the Euphrates, the Autonomous Administration (AA) has endured a host of challenges, including the overcrowding of various actors and its relation with local communities. In an effort to obtain political legitimacy, international recognition, and preserve its military gains in the field, the AA is seeking the formation of a new political framework. The proposed structure would include opposition figures and entities.
The move is motivated by a number of internal and external motives. Internally, a new, more inclusive political umbrella may unify the various Kurdish political groups. By creating an inclusive front, the AA may be able to monopolize the representation of Kurdish people in Syria, and contain local (non-Kurdish) groups. Most locals perceive the members of the PKK “Cadres” as the dominant actor behind the AA, with local governance structures existing powerlessly. This is due to the “Cadres” control over decision-making and deeply entrenched within the AA and all its institutions. Therefore, a more inclusive and representative political umbrella may alter this perception among locals.
Externally, the new AA political framework may strengthen the AA’s position to negotiate with Russia and the Syrian regime. A united front may provide the AA with a more compelling argument for the type of autonomy being proposed in northeast Syria, despite the Syrian regime’s reluctance to accept. Secondly, by restructuring, the AA may signal the gradual withdrawal of foreign PKK members from northern and eastern Syria, providing assurances to Ankara and showcasing desire to hold peace talks with Turkey. This may mend the relationship between the AA and Turkey preventing any new military operations. Lastly, through the initiative the AA would exhibit its intention to not obstruct Washington’s goals in Syria.
The initiative to form a new political umbrella east of the Euphrates may result in several scenarios. The AA will seek to adopt and improve its positioning, while mitigating potential losses.
() Original paper published on March 4, 2021, in Arabic, https://bit.ly/3qRhG1j
Entering its tenth year, the Syrian conflict has resulted in a host of challenges for Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The topic of return is among the most critical in local and international conversations, which remains a challenge with no solution in sight. Without a conducive political, social, and economically environment, voluntary return will be limited. A number of items must be considered to elevate the option of voluntary return, including securing a safe and dignified return, maintaining regional stability, and arranging the appropriate regional and international circumstances to ensure the availability of the objective conditions necessary for such return.
When discussing the internal factors in which effect the return of Syria’s displaced, the security situation is the most mentioned. The security conditions in all areas of Syria significantly influence an individual’s decision to return. With deteriorating security conditions, civilians are unable to feel safe and stable. With fear of being displaced again due to security reasons, they are deterred from voluntary return. With the ongoing crisis, maintaining a secure space remains difficult for security forces in opposition, Assad regime, and Autonomous Administration (AA) held territory. The path towards providing civilians with a sense of safety and stability there must be a political and military solution. Recovery and reconstruction may only begin when a safe environment is secured.
Omran Centre for Strategic Studies implemented a survey targeting individuals from regime, opposition, and AA-held territories. This survey is integral as it illustrates the perspective of civilians concerning the security situation and factors influencing their return. From the surveys, it is apparent that locally civilians understand the security conditions intensively, and are aware. The chaotic security situation -is manifested in a host of violations that come in different forms, tools, and intensities. Thus, it reflects the fragility and volatility of the security environment, which is inconsistent with the demand that international bodies seek to fulfil as one of the objective prerequisites for the safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries.
The goal of the survey was to identify primary and secondary factors as well as indicators related to the primary indicator of security stability in Syria. These secondary indicators include the efficiency of security apparatuses as well as the legal system associated with them, the performance of these apparatuses and their security operations in addition to relevant accountability, follow-up and complaints systems, as well as the extent to which these indicators have an impact on the return of the Syrian refugees from neighboring countries. First, the survey attempts to diagnose the general security landscape in various Syrian regions, then to identify the nature of relationships between civilians and security apparatuses in these areas, furthermore identifying the most important variables that govern the refugees' decision to return to Syria. Finally, it examines the reality of the refugees' return to Assad regime-held areas, opposition-held areas, and AA areas to determine the most important indicators related to the return of refugees to these areas.
For More Click Here: https://bit.ly/3gReLSU
Forced migration and internal displacement is still the heaviest toll of Syria’s security deterioration. The main political actors continue to struggle with resolving the causes of migration, including absence of security, empowerment, interaction, and safe spaces.
There are a host of challenges including the inability to provide basic services for IDPs and the lack of political coordination between local and international actors to maintain policies and procedures that lead to “dignified and voluntary return”. The local security actors, in turn, have no supporting strategies whether due to threats and challenges or the negative role they play within recovery and development prospects.
Stability is associated with the effectiveness of “local security” structures, which are deeply affected – structurally and functionally – by several governance models and performance, this association significantly affects refugees and IDPs return. This paper investigates indicators of a safe environment as a necessary condition for stability, return of refugees and IDPs and the prevention of further conflicts. This research attempted to raise questions and insights related to existing security structures, the Assad regime and its allies’ in-depth attitude towards such an environment, and finally, broad visions of a safe environment in the Syrian context.
This paper can be regarded as a thematic summary of an in-depth and comprehensive research initiated by Omran Center in the beginning of 2020. The research aimed at exploring several facets of the issue, first facet deals with refugees’ and IDPs’ prospect of return and related security issues. Second facet is related to the concept of relationship between civil society and security structures, as this relationship defines the legal and organizational parameter of a stable and secure environment. The third facet focuses on security indicators that affect people’s daily life, such as explosions, abductions, assassinations, etc. To examine the regime’s approach and attitudes towards national interest, the research was based on two focus groups located in areas the regime gained after 2018.
For More Click Here: https://bit.ly/3nxBki8