Syria: Militants Capitulate in Damascus Countryside
The progress made by the Syrian army in the Damascus countryside is “peacefully” bearing fruit. After liberating a number of towns around the capital in the past several weeks by force, there are hopes that deals reached with militants can be replicated in other regions, most notably the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and Qudsia.
Damascus – The city of Damascus is no longer in danger. This is the conclusion come to by military sources directly involved in the battles in the governorates of Damascus and the Damascus countryside since July 2012.
Since then, the militants announced more than one raid against the capital, but their plans have all subsequently failed, before the militants went on the defensive, starting in April 2013. This happened when the Syrian army encircled eastern Ghouta, isolating it from the Syrian Desert (al-Badia) and the town of Utaiba.
After the Syrian army liberated the town and began its slow advance into eastern Ghouta, it moved to secure the Damascus International Airport by seizing the towns that overlook it, concluding these operations last month with the liberation of the towns of Shebaa and Htita al-Turukman. Then the Syrian army moved to the south side of the airport road, specifically to the towns of Boueida, Dhiyabiya, Husseiniya, Sbina al-Sughra, and Ghazal.
According to the sources, over the past year the Syrian army has effectively eliminated strategic threats to Damascus, paving the way for serious discussion of fully liberating both eastern and western Ghouta. Sources said that battles would intensify as the Syrian army goes into eastern Ghouta, especially as it draws closer to armed opposition strongholds in Saqba, Qaboun, and Douma. As for the southern countryside, the sources purport that the liberation of the areas east of the Damascus-Daraa express route, in addition to the entire area of Qadam, is now a matter of time, saying, “Some of these areas will be liberated by force, while others will fall with the militants willingly withdrawing.”
Indeed, the effects of the army’s achievements in the capital’s countryside began to gradually appear on the field, with the militants and their popular bases in several areas around the capital seeking deals with government forces. In the past two days alone, three such deals were declared in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Qudsia, and Hama, in which militants were given amnesty, and safe corridors were opened for the evacuation of civilians.
On Sunday, November 10, an agreement brokered by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was announced, requiring opposition militants to withdraw from the Yarmouk camp in favor of a joint Palestinian security force representing all Palestinian factions – with the exception of Hamas and the PFLP-GC – to manage the camp, while giving safe passage to civilians, according to Palestinian sources.
Early signs of this agreement began to emerge when the Syrian army seized the towns of Sbina al-Kubra and Ghazal two days earlier, arriving to the outskirts of the Hajar al-Aswad district adjacent to the camp from the south. The signs included al-Nusra Front fighters announcing their withdrawal from the camp to the town of Yalda as the Syrian army advanced, while relief workers announced an initiative for the evacuation of civilians trapped in the camp.
In the same vein, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad has met with a delegation from the executive committee of the PLO, headed by Zakaria al-Agha.
At the end of the meeting, Miqdad said that the terrorists’ attack on Palestinian camps in Syria is a blatant sign of the depth of coordination between them and Israel in the war being waged against Syria. For his part, Agha said the Palestinian leadership was keen on not having refugees interfere in Syrian affairs, and held the militant groups occupying the camps fully responsible for the suffering of their civilian populations.
On the ground, Abu Hadi, a resident of al-Madaris Street in the camp, told Al-Akhbar, “As soon as we heard about the initiative to evacuate us on Saturday, most of the residents prepared themselves to seize the opportunity and leave the camp,” adding that one field commander from Hamas told the residents, “Wait another two days. There is an agreement to get you out, and we will hand over our weapons.” According to the same sources, contacts are proceeding in full swing to finalize the deal.
Observers attribute the success and increasing rate of these deals throughout the countryside to several factors, including: the progress made by the army on more than one axis over the past month, especially in the southern countryside; the collapse in the ranks of the armed opposition on more than one front; and the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in the flash points as a result of sustained clashes.
However, the direct reason behind these deals becoming a general trend, according to Luay Hilal, a national reconciliation activist, is “the success of the early attempts in places like Beit Saham and Maaddamiyyeh, which built up trust and credibility.”
The Deal in Qudsia
In Qudsia, located north of Damascus behind Mount Qassioun, government forces were able to reestablish their checkpoint more than 26 days after it was closed, near al-Safsaf Avenue leading to the entrance of Qudsia. Civilian cars were allowed to cross after sandbags were removed, and the town now awaits the fulfillment of promises to resupply bakeries with flour.
On Saturday, November 9, military sources announced an agreement had been reached in Qudsia, a city of 400,000 residents. The agreement establishes a ceasefire and a joint security committee from the army and the opposition militants, under the Syrian flag, which will be raised in the town square. Also as part of the agreement, the two roads leading to Qudsia will be reopened – the old Safsaf Avenue and the road that links the city to its main suburb.
Implementation of the agreement began immediately after the announcement, with civilians allowed to pass along the road between Qudsia and the suburb. Abu Jalal, a resident of Qudsia, said, “Soldiers at the checkpoint in the suburb’s entrance told us about the deal. People were joyful, and began to flock to nearby neighborhoods to shop for supplies, which they had no access to during the fighting.”
Qudsia had seen a similar deal previously, but “extremist elements in the opposition obstructed it,” Abu Jalal claimed. “The current deal seems more mature and successful.” The town of Hama was also the center of another deal, with 12 militants surrendering their weapons to the army, according to military sources, paving the way for a comprehensive settlement along the lines of Qudsia.
It is worth mentioning that Qudsia had come under siege with increased militant activity since Eid al-Adha. The army surrounded its entrances at the time, severing all but one of its connections to the outside through the Hama region.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.