Layal Abou Rahal –
Seven years after giving birth to Syria’s revolt, the country’s south looks set to fall back into government hands likely through a rare consensus emerging among rival powers.
The government has regained control of much of Syria with Russian backing, and a win in the south would cap a string of victories this year.
Its strategic value comes from geography: the south borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, but also lies close to Damascus.
As a result, it’s a prized region for nearly all stakeholders in Syria’s warped war: the government and rebels, plus Iran, Jordan, Israel, Russia, and the United States. Typically bitterly divided over Syria, most of those powers seem to agree on a government comeback in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.
“The southern front is the first example of international consensus for the regime’s return,” says Nawar Oliver of the Turkey-based Omran Institute. The government has amassed troops in Daraa and Quneitra for weeks and dropped leaflets over Daraa city, the cradle of the 2011 revolt, demanding rebels give up.
Oliver says the south may fall without a fight.
“It’s clear there’s a consensus between powers — the Americans, the Israelis, the Jordanians and the Russians — that the better choice is for regime forces to deploy there without entering into a military operation,” he said.
Rebels still hold most of Daraa and Quneitra.
The strange aligning-of-the-stars over southern Syria is the product of talks led by Moscow, which has leveraged military support to Syrian President Bashar al Assad into a mediator role.
It called last week for urgent negotiations with the US and Jordan on the south, and last Thursday President Vladimir Putin discussed Syria with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“International powers have reached near-consensus on the Damascus regime’s return to Syria’s south, with its ally distanced from the border,” says Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
Perhaps in exchange the regime may be allowed to exert control over the neighbouring province of Daraa.
“But some parties don’t trust the regime to rein in its ally and commit to distancing it from this sensitive area,” says Heller.
Russia is also seeking to appease Jordan, which hosts 660,000 Syrian refugees. Moscow, Amman, and Washington announced a
ceasefire in southern Syria last year that Heras says was a precursor to the upcoming deal. — AFP