Insurgency in southern Syria intensifies

What happened: A rebel insurgency is growing in southern Syria with at least five former rebels and regime intelligence officials killed in the past four days.

  • Rebel forces in Deraa and Quneitra increased their attacks in late January when two former opposition fighters were killed in a bombing attack of a regime intelligence facility in Dael. Syrian expert Charles Lister reported that Assad’s military intelligence directorate conducted a series of high-level kidnappings to force tribal leaders to end the insurgency. Over the past week, the regime has pursued a twin policy to prevent the insurgency from growing: negotiations with tribal leaders and intimidation via the intelligence directorate.
  • Syrian TV reported that Israel carried out air strikes against Syrian regime and Iranian militia bases in Al Kiswa, Marj al-Sultan and Jisser Baghdad near Damascus and a suburb of Daraa. Up to 12 military personnel are reported to have been killed.
  • In Idlib, 500,000 people have fled their homes to escape the Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib since December 2019 according to the United Nations, as aid organisations warn of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the province.
  • Fighting between Turkish and Syrian forces escalated earlier in the week. In one clash on Monday, eight Turkish military personnel were killed by Syrian government shelling, and 76 Syrian troops were killed in a Turkish retaliation.
  • Erdogan said yesterday: “If the Syrian regime will not retreat from Turkish observation posts in Idlib in February, Turkey will be obliged to take matters into its own hands”

Context:  Since last month, Syrian intelligence chief Hussam Louqa has been hosting several meetings with community figures in Daraa city to try and maintain the violence.

  • According to the Daraa Martyrs Documentation office, a local monitoring group, in 2019 alone there were at least 305 assassination attempts recorded across Daraa province. Assassinations and disappearances have targeted all sides in Daraa’s messy post-conflict politics.
  • Idlib is the final remaining rebel-held parcel of territory in Syria. Turkish-backed and Jihadist rebels are currently holding out against a brutal Syrian-Russian-Iranian military campaign which frequently targets civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
  • As well as the increase in attacks in southern Syria, there are also reports of ISIS attacks in the eastern province of Deir Ez Zour.

Looking ahead: The UN Security Council is meeting today for an emergency session on Syria, following the clashes between the Turkish and Syrian military.

  • Russia will aim to ensure that the Idlib offensive continues so the Assad regime is free to destroy the last remaining rebel stronghold.
  • Attacks in the South and the resurgence of ISIS however indicate that, even after Idlib is captured, the Syrian regime will be fighting jihadi and rebel groups for many years
  • The Israeli airstrikes against Iranian militia targets signal a resumption of its campaign since 2017 to prevent Iran building up military bases in Syria and supplying allied militias with advanced weapons. Previous reports in Israel indicated that airstrikes in Syria may increase as Israel sensed a window of opportunity with Iran in disarray after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in January.

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