Syrian army clashes with Dara’a fighters near Israel and Jordan

Reports of artillery and that “local militant groups from the western village of Dara’a deployed near Tafas” leaves questions about who is in control.

Fences are seen on the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights March 25, 2019. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Fences are seen on the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights March 25, 2019.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Tensions boiled over in Syria’s southern Dara’a province on Sunday as the Syrian army reportedly sent its 4th division on a sweep of towns and villages after several Syrian soldiers were killed. Much remains unclear in the areas of southern Syria that abut the Golan and also Jordan, an area that was retaken by the Syrian regime in 2018 but remains restive.
Reports by pro-Syrian regime social media said that several Syrian soldiers had been killed and even “beheaded.” They had been killed in Al-Shajara in the Yarmouk basin and near the village of Jalin. Clashes took place near Tafas as well. At least one high ranking Syrian army officer, said to have been a lieutenant-colonel, was reported killed. An air force intelligence post was also attacked by local fighters. The air force intelligence is among the most feared apparatus of the Syrian regime.
The Syrian army received a “green light” to conduct a large security operation after the clashes. The Syrian regime has tried to tread lightly in Dara’a after returning to the area. The Syrian rebels here surrendered quickly and some were recruited by the Russian-backed 5th corps. Former rebels such as Ahmad al-Audeh joined the Russian-backed units, but they have clashed with locals and regime elements since then. Syrian rebels in this area kept their loyalty to their old units even as they went to work with the 5th corps or 4th division, reports say. On September 30, there were clashes with Druze in Suwayda, which borders Dara’a to the northeast.
To understand the landscape here, Tafas is north of Dara’a around 15 km. and it is around 50 km. from Suwayda to the east. It is only 15 km. from the Golan and the ceasefire line with Syria. This is strategic territory, but when the Syrian regime returned it had to fight ISIS as well near the Golan; and it operated with a light hand, not wanting an insurgency to continue.
Russia was supposed to play a larger role and Iran’s henchmen were supposed to stay away. However, Hezbollah and others infiltrated. Many Syrians who had fled to Jordan did not return, fearful of regime reprisals. And there were reprisals and detentions of Syrians.  
On November 7 there were reports that the regime had lost control of some checkpoints in this area between Tafas, Muzayrib and Jallin which is near Jordan and Yarmouk’s basin and the Golan. A checkpoint northwest of Dara’a, called Masakin, was also attacked. Video showed the clashes and fighters taking control of the area.
Dara’a was a heart of the Syrian rebellion in 2011 during initial protests against the regime. Two weeks ago several reports emerged of Syrian officials being killed in Dara’a, including men who had “reconciled” with the regime.
Arabic media has said that Dara’a “ignited” in fighting over the last two days. Reports said the elements of the 4th division “accompanied by tracked vehicles and heavy weapons” advanced into farmland near Dara’a. Locals were arrested. There were some reports that Assad officials such as Maher al-Assad and Maj.-Gen. Ali Mahmoud were involved in today's operations.  
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted that clashes had broken out in Karak town in the eastern countryside near Dara’a. It included the details about the air force intelligence branch being attacks. It also said that “former fighters of opposition factions targeted al-Karak al-Sharqi checkpoint in east Dara'a countryside with RPGs, before they took control of the checkpoint and arrested more than nine members stationed there. Meanwhile, regime forces stationed at Al-Tha’ala military airport in western Al-Suwaidaa shelled the area with rocket-propelled grenades, but no casualties reported, while tension was rising in the area there.”
The same report notes the clashes near Tafas as if they are separate and discusses the security sweep of the area, ascribing it to anti-ISIS operations. This leaves a lack of clarity.
Nevertheless, the reports of artillery and that “local militant groups from the western village of Dara’a deployed near Tafas,” leaves questions about who is in control. The situation is “heating up again,” one report notes, arguing that Syrian rebels “launched raid and arrest campaign.”
A convoy of four vehicles from the Air Force Intelligence arrived at Karak again on Saturday, apparently to retake the area, North Press Agency noted. The Within Syria Twitter account noted that within the 5th corps, the most prominent former rebel units are in its 8th brigade.
Some have an interest in exaggerating the clashes in southern Syria. However, the continued unrest that has gone on for years is punctuated by these types of incidents, just like the clashes in Suwayda in September. It is never clear when it might boil over into more serious conflict. Its proximity to Israel and Jordan mean that it has serious security implications.
The presence of Russia and Iranian-backed factions is also important for the region.