September 21, 2021

Emergency briefing: Russia failing to stop Syrian regime breaking settlement agreement in Daraa

The Syrian regime is brutally crushing Daraa and remaining semi-autonomous towns

  • Russia failing in its role as guarantor of 2018 settlement agreement in former opposition areas
  • New wave of intense attacks and siege by the Assad regime is further proof of the urgent need for political transition in Syria
  • Unrest in Daraa highlights the continuing opposition to the Assad regime even in areas back under its control

This month Bashar al-Assad’s regime crushed the semi-autonomous district of Daraa al-Balad, close to the Syrian-Jordanian border, following over two months of intense siege, shelling, and rocket attacks on the town. The campaign was prompted in part by the refusal of Daraa’s residents to participate in the May presidential election and their condemnation of Assad’s election as illegitimate.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has described the attacks and the use of siege tactics as a “tragedy”. During the siege, over 38,000 of Daraa al-Balad’s approximately 50,000 residents were displaced from their homes to neighbouring suburbs, and over 5,000 families remained inside Daraa al-Balad under siege, denied food, water, electricity, medicine and humanitarian aid.

The regime’s ruthless attacks on southern Syria are a political and humanitarian disaster. Daraa is the birthplace of the Syrian revolution and Russia’s role was to maintain a reconciliation agreement with the regime, established in 2018. Assad has again shown that he will always resort to violence and abandon agreements at any sign of resistance to his rule.

To end the siege and attacks on Daraa al-Balad, residents were forced to accept the regime’s strict demands, including house searches, ‘settlement of status’ of defected Syrian army soldiers and activists wanted by the regime, a total surrender of the light weapons that residents were allowed to keep under the 2018 reconciliation agreement, and nine new permanent checkpoints around the area. Daraa residents now fear a wave of collective punishment, retaliation, and mass arrests in line with the regime’s behavior in retaken opposition areas such as Eastern Ghouta.

The regime is now deploying its forces and launching attacks on several other areas in southern Syria, including Tafas, Jasim, Al-Yadudah, Tal Shihab, and Al-Muzayrib. Statements by regime and Russian officials indicate they intend to impose new restrictive terms on all these areas.

Russia has failed to prevent the growing wave of aggression by the Syrian regime and pro-Assad Iranian militias in the south of Syria, which intends to destroy all remaining areas outside of regime control. In fact, Russia pushed through the regime’s new terms by threatening to assist it in any military confrontation in Daraa al-Balad. The regime refused to compromise at all with local leaders, even targeting negotiators, and insisted on the complete oppression of the population – further proof that the regime will never reform itself, and of the urgent need for political transition in Syria.

Activist from Daraa, Yacoub Alzoubi, said:

“The regime attacked Daraa al-Balad with heavy shelling and put it under tight siege for 79 days, denying food, medicine and basic necessities from entering the city, all to pressure civilians to surrender. Displaced people have started going back to their homes and are shocked by the massive destruction of houses. Now people fear there will be mass arrests and intimidation of residents. The Syrian army robbed civilian homes before they left. They stole belongings, doors and windows, even the electricity cables were pulled and stolen.”

“Russia is not a guarantor, Russia is here to support and empower the oppressive Assad regime. Turning a blind eye to the breaches of the 2018 agreement, it has allowed the regime to commit more atrocities in the past years. The international community has a responsibility toward civilians in Daraa. If Russia can’t be trusted with people’s lives, then a new guarantor is needed.”

The international community must hold Russia to account for what’s happening in Daraa

Assad and Putin, who met in Moscow last week for the first time since 2015, have been emboldened in the face of international inaction to protect Syrians. World leaders must exert more pressure on Russia to prevent the Syrian regime’s relentless war on Syrians, and to ensure that dissidents and activists in southern Syria’s former opposition communities are protected. Residents must not be subjected to collective punishment or retaliation.

Russia has proven it cannot be trusted to be the guarantor against regime and Iranian aggression in southern Syria. The international community must actively demand an immediate end to all attacks on civilians and re-engage to ensure political transition per UN Security Council Resolution 2254.