Map 1: Updated situation map of Idlib, western Aleppo and northern Hama
- M4 and M5 highways are considered one of the main strategic targets for any possible attacks from the Regime and his Iranian allies.
- Internal border crossings are trading hubs between areas under regime control and areas under opposition control. Currently these borders are closed by the regime for different reasons, except "Qalat Al-Madiq" in Sahel Al-Ghab was partially opened in the last few days to allow the last IDPs convoy from the south to enter Idlib.
- On 13 August, Russian Military Police took over both "Qalat Al-Madiq and Mourek" corresponding internal border crossing sites in regime areas replacing the Syrian Army’s 4th Division (Affiliated with Iran).
This report presents a brief account of latest developments in southern Syria, covering the Daraa and Qunaitera fronts with a specific focus on Iranian involvement from late May until July 17. Prior to the latest escalation along the southern border of Syria, there were reports of an initial agreement between Israel and Russia to push back Iranian and Iranian-backed forces along Syria’s border with Israel. The Iranians reacted by incorporating many of its militias and forces into the Syrian army to continue fighting in the area. Photographs and videos posted on pro-regime media as well as accounts belonging to some of the Iranian-backed militias confirm their involvement. In the final agreement between opposition forces and Russia involving parts of Eastern Daraa and Daraa city, green buses headed to the area to prepare the transportation of a small number of the opposition members to Idlib, while other areas concluded reconciliation agreements. Other areas to the west of Daraa are still going through negotiations to finalize the terms of their agreements. The Russians are pushing for an agreement where minimum number of residents are displaced to Idlib, as a deal to receive them was not concluded with Turkey. At the same time, Iranian forces are pushing for the escalation of attacks to take full control of all southern regions.
In late May 2018, Israel and Russia agreed that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces would vacate areas in southwestern Syria near the Israeli border(). Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that due to the Syrian army’s recent advances, foreign forces should withdraw from Syria and mentioned Turkish, American, Iranian and Hezbollah soldiers specifically when asked to clarify. Iranian Foreign Ministry representative Bahram Qassemi responded that Iran would remain in Syria while terrorism exists and for as long as the Syrian government wants Iranian forces there(). Nevertheless, in order to reduce pressure from Israel, Iranian-backed forces – including some of Hezbollah members – withdrew from areas in southern Syria only to return as integrated units within the Syrian Army structure. Examples of Iranian-backed forces within the Army include the following:
In early June, Russia began deploying troops near territories occupied by Israel, indicating Moscow’s preference for decreased Iranian presence in Syria and despite the dominant presence of Hezbollah in the area. Sources confirmed that Hezbollah was not happy with Russian moves and would demand Russian withdrawal, similar to what happened in Al-Qusir, Homs in the first week of June. Conveying Iranian opinion, Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri told Lebanon’s al-Manar, “Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda measures of anyone,” adding also that Lebanese militias would not leave Syria().
The following is a list of top Iranian-backed militias and forces involved in the escalation of violence in the southern front:
|Militia Name||Origin||Situation in Syria|
|Imam al Baqir Brigade||Syria||Part of LDF|
|Lebanese Hezbollah||Lebanon||Special Forces|
|Saryaa Al-Arin||Syria||Military Security Branch|
|Zu Al-Fiqar Brigade||Iraq||Republican Guard|
|Imam Hussein Brigade||Iraq||Militia|
|Al Quds Brigade||Palestine||Militia|
|Abu Fadl Al-Abba||Iraq||Republican Guard|
|A Taha Regiment||Syria||Tiger Forces|
|Arab National Guard||Mix||Militia|
|Salah Al-Assi groups||Syria||Tiger Forces|
At the end of June, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed forces – with the support of the Russian Air Force – began the attack on Daraa, quickly capturing a number of cities in a matter of days. Following this rapid advance, various towns throughout Daraa accepted reconciliation agreements with the Syrian regime, including the towns of Um Oualad, Saida, Um Mayazin, Taybah, Nassib, Jabib, Ibta, and Da’il. By the first week of July, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed forces along with the Russian military police had surrounded Nasib border crossing after capturing the city itself. According to Information Unit Source, the presence of Russian military police is part of an undeclared agreement between Russia and Jordan to ensure that Iranian-backed militias do not enter through the Nasib Crossing. However, as these militias integrated themselves into different Syrian army groups, it is difficult to monitor their presence in Daraa.
Map (1): Updated Southern Front Control Map - 19 July 2018
Iranian-backed forces suffered a number of casualties during the attack on Daraa, losing more than 50 top-level fighters – among these fighters were those from Hezbollah, as well as Khalil Takhti Nejad, a fighter for the IRGC. Nejad was deployed to Syria as a member of the Imam Sajjad IRGC Hormozgan Provincial Unit and commanded an operation from an unnamed base in a southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, approximately 32 km from Israel’s northern border.
Note: chart only indicates the number of dead among top Iranian-backed militias who participated directly in the recent Daraa battle; information obtained from monitoring pro-regime websites and official militia accounts.
By the second week of July, Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias announced that they had captured 520 km2 in Daraa province; 290 km2 from military operations and the remaining 230 km2 following a deal between Russia and the opposition factions. Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias continued to advance along the Syrian-Jordanian border and reached the town of Khrab al-Shahm, facing no resistance from the opposition as most opposition forces had withdrawn from the borderline earlier.
Footage from Daraa battle of Iranian participation
The images below were taken from official media accounts of the participating militias and from pro-regime accounts.
Eastern Daraa Agreement and Western Daraa ongoing Negotiation
The situation in Daraa remains unclear. Four major events that are underway include:
About 20 buses are expected to depart with hundreds of civilians and fighters of Islamic factions with their families. There were about 1400 people expected to depart but the committees which are close to Russia are trying to persuade people to stay instead of evacuating to the north for the following reasons:
Note: In regards to Quneitra, there is no agreement until now and no initial negotiation between the Russian and any faction of the opposition forces. Russian negotiators want HTS to leave its post before starting any kind of negotiations.
The situation is being continually monitored in order to maintain an eye on what changes occur. The opposition’s divided actions will continue to leave it exposed to manipulation by outside forces. The Syrian regime will further its presence in the south by playing off the Israel-Russia-Iran trio; and Jordan will observe silently without exerting much effort in terms of actual fighting with or against any of the parties involved. With Russian forces gaining more ground in Syria whether at the behest of the Syrian regime or by making unilateral moves, it will be crucial – albeit difficult – to observe how Iran proceeds to protect itself and its assets in Syria.
() 29 May 2018 – Telegraph - https://goo.gl/Z5jFUh
() 8 July 2018 – Fares News - https://goo.gl/3KdLpU
() 10 June 2018 – Daily Sabah - https://goo.gl/noyzPV
() 16 July 2018 – Al Masder News - https://goo.gl/zyKA28
Mr. Yaser Tabbara talked about the Syrian regime troops, and their allies, had made major gains in Idlib province. Forces loyal to Bashar al Assad say they're targeting terrorists. But tens of thousands of people are fleeing towards the Turkish border, in what could create a new humanitarian disaster.
Turkey said last week that its campaign in Idlib was nearly complete, but recent talk over further expansion in Aleppo’s countryside signal that its operations in northern Syria may be far from over.
A map of control in northeast Syria, showing front lines between the opposition, Kurdish forces and the Syrian government. By Omran Center -Nawar Oliver
After establishing a presence in northern Idlib and western Aleppo over the past month, Turkish troops and Turkey-backed rebels are now looking to expand their area of control along the border by moving further east into Aleppo’s countryside, a rebel spokesman told Syria Deeply.
Although Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his country’s operation in northeast Syria was nearly complete, Ankara recently dispatched reconnaissance teams to new areas, and some rebels reported being in talks to hand over their positions to Turkish forces, according to a military spokesman for the Syrian opposition faction Nour al-Din al-Zenki.
Ankara began its cross-border operation with the purported aim of enforcing a de-escalation zone in Idlib, which was agreed upon by Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Kazakh capital of Astana in September. So far, its troops have deployed only in areas separating the opposition and Kurdish forces. The Turks have not moved into front-line areas between rebels and the Syrian regime.
According to Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq, Turkey is looking to replicate this strategy further east. He told Syria Deeply that Nour al-Din al-Zenki had already agreed to hand over its positions in rural Aleppo to Turkish forces.
He added that although it had not been determined exactly where the Turkish troops would be stationed, Ankara was looking to establish observation posts in the Sheikh Aqil Mountains, located in the al-Bab district, which Turkey liberated from the so-called Islamic State last year.
Ankara has also dispatched reconnaissance teams to Nour al-Din al-Zenki positions in the adjacent districts of al-Tamoura and Anadan, northwest of Aleppo city, but had not yet taken them over, Abdul Razzaq said. The military spokesman also cautioned the agreement could fall through if Aleppo residents objected to the Turkish presence.
It was not immediately clear what Nour al-Din al-Zenki stands to gain from the agreement. “Turkey’s deployment in Idlib is part of the de-escalation zone agreement reached in Astana, and Zenki is a signatory to this deal,” Abdul Razzaq simply said.
When asked about the significance of these positions, Abdul Razzaq said they were a clear indicator of Turkey’s attempts to encircle the Kurdish-held region of Afrin. “If the Turkish army’s priority was ensuring de-escalation, then Ankara should have first deployed on the front lines between the opposition and the regime, instead of on the front lines with Kurdish separationists,” he said. “Everyone knows that Kurdish forces are Ankara’s greatest concern when it comes to its southern borders.”
Speaking to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) last month, Erdogan said that although Turkey’s Idlib operation was nearly complete, “the Afrin issue is ahead of us … We can come suddenly at night. We can suddenly hit at night.”
A map showing Turkish positions in Idlib province as well as front lines between Turkish forces and Kurdish groups based in the adjacent Kurdish-held region of Afrin. By Omran Center-(Nawar Oliver)
Turkey’s planned expansion comes after weeks of operations in northern Idlib and western Aleppo that have resulted in the establishment of at least three Turkish posts in areas adjacent to the Kurdish-held region of Afrin.
Omar Khattab, a military spokesman for the Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, said that Turkish deployment in Idlib has been carried out in coordination with the al-Qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham alliance, which withdrew from areas of Turkish operations.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Syria Deeply last month that HTS agreed to surrender positions to the Turkish army to prevent a costly all-out war with Turkish troops.
Ahrar al-Sham’s military spokesman said he was not authorized to disclose the exact coordinates of these positions, but Ahmad Saoud of the Free Idlib Army’s Division 13 Brigade said Turkey has built a launching-pad base in the Sheikh Barakat Mountain in Dar Simeon.
The position is only a few miles from Kurdish militia forces based in Jendaris and is located roughly 7 miles (12km) from the Turkish borders. A video posted by the activist-run Smart News Agency on October 24 shows Turkish bulldozers and armored vehicles operating in the area.
Turkish troops have also dispatched forces to the village of Salwa, which is near the border of Afrin, according to Abdul Razzaq. The activist-run Thiqa News Agency has posted a video on social media networks showing Turkish armored vehicles moving in the area.
Rebel sources said that Turkish troops have also purportedly deployed in the village of Fadrah near the Sheikh Barakat Mountain.
Turkey’s operations in northern Syria are laying the groundwork for the establishment of a border buffer zone that stretches from the Atmeh border crossing as far east as Jarablus. Following the Euphrates Shield Operation last year, Turkish-backed forces gained control over the Jarablus, Azaz and al-Bab in Aleppo’s countryside. Current expansion in Anadan, Tammoura and Sheikh Aqil will help Turkey connect its positions in Northern Idlib with Euphrates Shield territory in Aleppo’s countryside.
In another indication of Ankara seeking to entrench itself along this stretch of the border, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported last week that Turkey has reportedly trained some 5,632 Syrian volunteers to work as police officers in the area. Some volunteers have already been dispatched to the areas of al-Bab, Azaz and Jarablus, Anadolu said.
Dr. Ammar Al Kahf on 7th of October talking about Turkey's Idlib Operation, he said that there was a delay of the operation in order to contain elements from HTS "Al Qaida" and not to start a fight with them in order to save many life's of civilians, he added that the Astana agreement and three partners "Turkey, Russia and Iran" have different objective and this is not a strategic alliance in any way, but a very tactical step by step approach on containing the HTS forces at the time been, on the issue of Assad there is a political process that’s under going, and he is already lost credibility because of the fact that Russia and Iran are speaking on behalf of the regime and the his not on the table, he ended saying that there are life to save in Idlib and the agreement in Astana says that no Iranian or Russian troops will enter Idlib but they will be in charge of the border control of the de-escalation zone, he also added that one of the major objective in Idlib is to block any SDF advancement from Afrin.