Syrian regime forces, backed by Iranian-linked militias and the Russian air force, have imposed full control over the Yarmouk Basin area in Daraa province in southern Syria. The regime army and its allies ejected Islamic State from the area that borders Jordan and Israel on 30th July and captured over a hundred fighters.
Opposition activists and officials claimed that the regime’s intelligence agencies had moved a number of Islamic State commanders to eastern Sweida, where Islamic State was in control of a desert pocket. They indicated that negotiations were taking place between the two sides, in which Islamic State demanded the release of fighters captured in the Yarmouk Basin in return for setting free thirty-six female hostages captured in its recent attacks on Sweida.
Activist Ammar Hammo said to 7Dnews, “For the first time since the Syrian revolution began in 2011, opposition fighters under the banner of the Free Syrian Army have participated in the regime offensive against the Islamic State affiliate, Jaysh Khalid Bin Alwaleed, in the Yarmouk Basin. The offensive ended with the relocation of a number of Islamic State commanders to eastern Sweida, the death of over a hundred fighters and the capture of a hundred others. The prisoners were moved to Tafas area.”
Hammo pointed out that the regime relocated a number of Islamic State intelligence commanders by bus from the UN point at the border with Israel to eastern Sweida. The relocation process came after the Islamic State group reached an agreement with the Syrian regime to relocate about four hundred members from the Yarmouk Basin area, along with their weapons and families, to eastern Sweida after losing territory to a regime offensive supported by former opposition fighters who had reconciled with the regime.
Former Free Syrian Army commander Abu Munther Heet told 7Dnews that Islamic State fighters gathered in the Heet valley on the Jordanian border after losing their battle. They surrendered to regime forces after being prevented from fleeing to Jordan by the Jordanian border guards, who opened fire on them. Meanwhile, Jordanian warplanes patrolled the border. Abu Munther Heet stressed that the regime forces captured all the Islamic State members and took them to Tafas town before moving them to the municipal stadium in Daraa city for questioning. Abu Munther said that none of the Islamic State members had been relocated to eastern Sweida and that the regime will use them to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Abu Munther added that Islamic State fighters had carried out field executions of dozens of civilians who had been in their prisons. The prisoners included women and old people shot in the head at close range.
The Jordanian Al-Ghad newspaper quoted a Jordanian military official on August 2nd as saying, “At about 12 o’clock on July 31st, a number of Islamic State fighters tried to move closer to our border.” He added, “The rules of engagement were applied by the tenth battalion of border guards. The shelling and clearance operations continued until the afternoon of August 1st without any Islamic State infiltration of the border.” The official said that the Jordanian soldiers killed the members of one Islamic State unit and forced the others to retreat.
In the meantime, people protested in front of the municipality of Sweida on August 1st in solidarity with victims and hostages in the city. The demonstrators displayed banners with the names of the people kidnapped by Islamic State. The demonstrators chanted, “Syria is free, Islamic State goes out.” They also stressed setting aside political differences to resolve the crisis. They demanded the officials in the province to work for the release of the female hostages.
The Syrian state news agency SANA released video footage showing the presence of regime forces in the Yarmouk Basin towns to confirm the takeover of the area. The videos show huge destruction of the residential areas as a result of the aerial bombardment carried out by the Russian air force in the previous ten days.
The Yarmouk Basin area, named after the Yarmouk River, was captured by the opposition fighters in early 2012 as the peaceful protests developed into armed rebellion. On 2015, an opposition group known as the Jaysh Khalid Bin Alwaleed declared allegiance to Islamic State and took control of the area. The developments of this week effectively mark the end of the regime’s military operation which started in June, during which regime forces captured most of the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra from opposition groups and cleared a pocket held by Islamic State.