Since the beginning of July, the city of Deraa, in southwestern Syria, has been the scene of intense fighting between rebel soldiers and the Syrian army. For 75 days, a government siege of rebel-held neighborhoods forced thousands of civilians to be displaced from their homes. After the Syrian regime broke an initial truce agreed to in early September, Russia negotiated a second ceasefire on September 5. Our observer describes a city struggling to return to normal after weeks of fighting.
The city of Daraa, in the extreme south of Syria, near the borders with Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, is known as the birthplace of the revolt against the Bashar al-Assad regime in 2011, which led to the Arab Spring and the civil war. The area has been under regime control since 2018, but the city’s old quarter, known as Daraa al-Balad, is home to several rebel groups.
From June 25 to September 8, the Syrian government imposed a strict blockade on Daraa, preventing the arrival of food or medical supplies. The city also suffered heavy aerial bombardment from pro-Iranian and regime forces. The reason: The rogue province boycotted the presidential elections in May 2021, a vote that unsurprisingly was won by incumbent President Bashar al-Assad.
The amateur videos show aerial bombardments of missiles and barrel bombs. Barrel bombs are an improvised, unguided weapon that is usually dropped from a helicopter. They have been banned by the United Nations Security Council due to their lethality. According to the Martyrs’ Documentation Office in Daraa, 16 civilians and 23 combatants died between July 29 and August 31. More than 38,000 people have been displaced by the fighting and the destruction of the city.
The bombing of the al-Sadd neighborhood on August 28, 2021. The missiles launched are ‘Elephant’-style missiles, according to the author of the Facebook post.
On September 1, a truce was agreed between the Syrian army and armed rebel groups in the province, before being broken the same day by the Syrian regime with missile attacks in neighborhoods considered rebel strongholds, in particular Daraa al-Balad and to the. -Sad.
Airstrike in the old town of Daraa al-Balad, September 1, 2021.
A second ceasefire was agreed to on September 5, negotiated by Russian officials. On September 9, Syrian forces entered the city to establish checkpoints and collect weapons handed over by the rebel forces.
‘The regime forces blocked the entry of supplies of food, water and electricity’
Ayman Abu Noqta is the spokesperson for the Horan Free League, a collective in Daraa province that tries to raise awareness about what is happening in the country. He described how, with the ongoing blockade, the humanitarian situation in the city is deteriorating.
The day before the ceasefire, September 4, airstrikes resumed around midnight with Sejjil surface-to-surface missiles. [an Iranian-manufactured mid-range missile] along with artillery bombardments and rocket launchers. These bombs targeted the city center of Daraa al-Balad, the al-Sadd neighborhood and the Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the city. The rocket fire killed several civilians and at least three fighters that night.
In this video shot on August 26, 2021, in Tafas, 13 km north of Daraa, the person filming says that ‘more than 20 rockets’ have been fired at the city.
We counted 253 surface-to-surface missiles and Golan rockets [a type of multiple launch rocket system developed by the Syrian regime in 2018] which affected Daraa during 75 days of siege. Fourth division militias [elite armoured divisions in the Syrian army that have been accused of crimes against humanity] they have absolute control over certain areas of the city, and civilians cannot evacuate these areas.
This video posted on Facebook on September 1 shows the damage to the Mansour mosque in Daraa al-Balad after the Syrian army bombed the city.
The humanitarian situation is catastrophic: people’s houses and businesses have been completely destroyed, along with public buildings. Tens of thousands of residents left the city in July and August to seek refuge with relatives in the countryside. The city was almost a month and a half without food, medicine or medical aid. We have documented attack victims who died from their injuries due to the lack of emergency medical assistance. The regime forces prevented the entry of food, water and electricity. There has been no flour for a month and a half.
The person who filmed this video mourns the loss of his family and other neighbors in his neighborhood, as well as the destruction of the city.
‘We think that the regime will respect this new truce’
The new truce agreed on September 5 allows the regime to establish four additional checkpoints and force rebel fighters who want to remain in Daraa to surrender their weapons. The regime forces can also search the homes of civilians, in the presence of the Russian military police and members of the Daraa negotiation committee. On September 6, 150 people deported from Daraa were able to settle their situation with the authorities and return to their homes. Ultimately, all military reinforcements sent to the 4th Division are supposed to leave the province and end the blockade.
The person who filmed this video is a resident of Daraa. Celebrate the arrival of Russian troops in the city on the first day of the truce, September 1, 2021.
In the coming days, we expect the currently blocked roads leading to Daraa al-Balad to be reopened and the armed forces to leave. This will result in the progressive return of displaced people, as well as those deported and wanted by the regime. We believe that the regime will respect this new truce because Moscow is putting pressure on the Syrian authorities. Civil councils are beginning to prepare for the return of the displaced and are helping residents rebuild their destroyed houses. We really need national and international humanitarian aid.
Despite the truce, the regime’s armed forces arrested civilian opposition members in the countryside around Daraa on September 6. In the past month, 44 civilians have been arrested, including 14 who were later released in August.