Sunday, December 5

Syria: Assad attacks former opposition stronghold with missiles and artillery | Syria

Bashar al-Assad has targeted a former opposition stronghold with missiles and artillery shelling in an attempt to crush a simmering insurrection, in a development unprecedented in the decade-long Syrian war.

Deraa al-Balad and its environs, a district of the city of Deraa in the southern province of the same name, was attacked with heavy weaponry along with a three-axis ground push from two divisions of the Syrian army and allied militias backed by Iran in the early Thursday morning. tomorrow, in a great offensive that lasted throughout the day.

In response to the bombardment, rebel gunmen launched counterattacks throughout Deraa countryside, killing at least eight pro-regime fighters and capturing dozens of fighters at various military positions and checkpoints, local sources said.

At least four civilians in the bombed areas have been killed, according to residents, and large numbers of people have started trying to flee. There are no medical facilities in the target areas.

The violence is the worst fighting to hit Deraa, the birthplace of Syria’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising against the regime, since the area was “reconciled” with Damascus in a deal brokered by Russia three years ago.

“We woke up to the attacks at 7 in the morning. We are under total siege, there is indiscriminate artillery, mortars, everything, ”said Abu Ahmed, a resident of Deraa al-Balad. “The civilians repelled the ground push to stop the entry of tanks and soldiers into the city, but we have no real armed resistance. There is no water, there is no electricity and we lack food. “

Unlike other opposition areas recovered by Assad with the help of his allies in Moscow and Tehran in the July 2018 surrender agreement, most Deraa residents stayed at home rather than being bussed to the province. from Idlib, on the Turkish border. Instead, Moscow oversaw the recruitment of the Deraa rebels into a new local security force known as the Fifth Corps, created to assist the exhausted Syrian army in the battle against the Islamic State.

Since Isis was expelled from southern Syria, an uneasy status quo has emerged: Moscow pays salaries to the Fifth Corps and they are supposed to follow Russian orders, but they have managed to retain a certain degree of autonomy, excluding the military and the military. secret police from underground areas. its control, housing those wanted by the regime and safeguarding large street protests against the government’s handling of Syria’s struggling economy.

Since then, tit-for-tat bombings and killings between former opposition figures and regime forces have become routine. But aware of the potential for a military escalation if Iranian and Hezbollah forces were integrated so close to Israel, Russia has largely thwarted the regime’s attempts to stamp out the fledgling insurgency.

The situation in Deraa deteriorated dramatically when the local population decided to boycott May’s fraudulent general elections, in which Assad was returned for another seven years in office with 95% of the vote. The regime’s soldiers began blocking roads and cutting off water and power supplies to neighborhoods that are home to some 50,000 people, leading to food and medicine shortages.

Several attempts at negotiation between a government security committee and Deraa al-Balad tribal representatives focused on delivering light weapons and installing new checkpoints over the past month have failed, prompting Damascus to send military reinforcements to the area early. This week.

The pro-government newspaper al-Watan called the events in Deraa the “beginning of a military operation against terrorist hideouts that thwarted a reconciliation agreement.”

On Thursday night there were unconfirmed reports that the Fifth Corporation, which has stayed out of the fighting, is mediating a ceasefire agreement. Residents reported, however, that heavy fighting has continued so far.

“The escalation in Deraa al-Balad represents a breakdown in negotiations between the leaders of the ‘reconciled’ rebels and the regime, mediated by Russia. Assad is now implementing the ‘solution’ that he wanted to impose on Deraa all the time: forcing the complete surrender and displacement of those who refuse to act as loyal subjects of the Syrian regime, ”said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Newlines Institute with extensive knowledge. . of the dynamics of southern Syria.

“Unless Russia intervenes to end the fighting and negotiate a ceasefire, the fighting will result in even more civilian deaths and displacement, and likely the subjugation of Deraa al-Balad under full regime control.”

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