Daraa, in southern Syria, is under attack by regime forces.
There are currently around 55,000 people besieged in Daraa-al-Balad and- according to OCHA- at least 24,000 people have already been displaced, mostly to neighboring areas.
The hospital has been hit, leaving people with chronic illnesses without medical care. The only road into the area is controlled by the regime so it’s been close to impossible to get access to food and medicines. Water, electricity and communications have been cut off. The siege has dramatically increased the price of food and goods and puts in further risk families who already struggled to cope with the economic crisis in Syria.
Located in a strategic area, Daraa is where the uprising against the Assad regime started in 2011.
Since 2015, when Russia intervened in the Syrian war in support of the regime, Assad has retaken control of many parts of Syria by besieging cities and killing or arresting everyone who rebelled against him.
Daraa is different. The Syrian regime took back the area in 2018 through a “reconciliation agreement” brokered by Russia that interfered with the Iranian interests there. Located in close vicinity to Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the presence of Iranian and pro-Iranian military forces (supporting Assad) in Daraa constitutes a major source of tension for the neighbouring countries.
To prevent Jordan, Israel and other actors from getting in the way of a regime return in the area, Russia intervened and mediated, brokering deals among many parties: they ensured that Iran and its proxies were officially not militarily active in the area and divided the region into two areas: the Northern part would fall under the control of Assad, while rebels would be allowed to stay in the Southern side (Daraa-al-Balad) in return for giving up heavy weapons and reinstating state institutions.
However, since 2018, tensions have been rising as these agreements have been breached constantly: rebel fighters have been arrested and detained, there are reports of Iranian forces and pro-Iranian militias in the area and attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations have been widespread on both sides.
Tensions kept rising until May when many people in Daraa province boycotted the elections, while Assad went to cast his vote there.
The regime saw this as a defiance of its authority and in the following weeks, in an attempt to tighten its control on the area, regime forces asked residents of Daraa-al-Balad to surrender their light weapons and allow regime forces to search houses in the area. As local authorities refused, things escalated and since June 25th, Daraa-al-Balad has been under siege.
The regime launched a ground offensive last week, leaving 23 people dead. Rebels fought back and took over many military checkpoints, and negotiations between the parties are still ongoing. The regime wants total control of the area, which is an unacceptable condition for the rebels because it means death or exile.
As always, civilians are paying the price.
If the siege is not lifted soon, and the regime continues with its offence, these people will have nowhere to go. The border with Jordan (already hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees) is shut, so the only option would be North-West Syria, where already more than 4 million people live in incredibly precarious conditions.
The conflict in Syria has for long been a playground for international powers to play their interests. Although both the US and the EU have put out statements asking all parties to “avoid escalations and restore calm” and to allow humanitarian aid in the area, more than 10 years later Assad is still allowed to besiege cities and leave civilians to flee or die.
All we can do is just hope that Daraa won’t be, yet again, the upteenth massacre at the hands of the regime.