Clashes in southern Syria have spread in recent days amid protests against the Assad regime, culminating in reports of gun battles and deployment of Syrian army tanks in Deraa province.
On Thursday reports claimed that some Syrian insurgents or rebels had clashed with the regime in Tasil, only five kms. from the Golan Heights and the ceasefire lines with Israel.
If the situation deteriorates it could have major ramifications for Israel and Jordan as well as for the Syrian regime and pro-Iran elements, such as Hezbollah, that have cells and bases near the Golan.
The Syrian regime retook areas in Deraa and near the Golan in 2018 after seven years of civil war. The southern front was a largely stable frontline for years but the Syrian rebels collapsed quickly and Syrian civil defense volunteers, called White Helmets, were evacuated through Israel to Jordan in July 2018.
A year later pro-Iran elements linked to Hezbollah set up shop near the Golan and even prepared “killer drones” that they intended to use against Israel which carried out airstrikes in late August 2019 against the drone squad.
The past two years there have been increasing and simmering tensions in southern Syria. This relates to the fact that many former Syrian rebels were demobilized, “reconciled” and recruited to work with the regime. Syrian refugees who had fled to Jordan by the hundreds of thousands didn’t want to return, fearing conscription and forced abductions. The brutal regime continues to “disappear” former rebels and track some down, while pressuring others to collaborate.
Other tensions dominate as well. While some former rebels came over to the regime and now act like local warlords or power-brokers, there are also Russians in southern Syria who came as part of a deal to help make the transition more palatable.
Former rebel Ahmad al-Audeh, for instance, accepted Russia’s terms and joined the Russian-backed Syrian regime 5th Corps and even headed its 8th brigade. At the same time there are tensions in the area with the powerful Druze minority in Jebel Druze and the Hauran areas. The Druze have generally supported the regime out of fear of jihadists and extremists among ISIS and the rebels. ISIS used to control areas near the southern Golan.
Pro-rebel accounts say that so-called former rebels have re-taken or “liberated” Tasil and other areas now. The tweets say they have taken Syrian soldiers prisoner, who they describe as men who work with the regime. Pictures posted online allegedly show the Syrian rebels with their boots on a photo of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad.