Syrian regime enforcer faces wrath of emboldened Druze population in south

Thirteen people have reportedly been killed in clashes between local warlord and anti-Assad fighters

A handout picture released by the local news site Suwayda 24 shows Syrians chanting anti-government slogans as they protest the country's deteriorating economic conditions and corruption, in the southern city of Suwaida on June 9, 2020.  - == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SUWAIDA24" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
 / AFP / SUWAYDA24 / - / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SUWAIDA24" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
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At least 13 men have been killed in the last two days in southern Syria attacks by armed groups opposed to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad, according to a resident and opposition sources in Amman.

The fighters launched attacks on loyalist militias in the governorate of Suweida near the border with Jordan, they said.

The violence indicates the difficulty the regime has had in controlling a province largely inhabited by a religious minority it has sought to recruit to its side in the civil war, while portraying the opposition as Sunni fanatics bent on destroying the country’s many non-Sunni sects.

Quote
Mass discontent has reached its peak against the behaviour of the security agencies in the province and their support for gangs like Falhout’s
Suweida resident

Suweida is largely inhabited by the country’s Druze population, a Middle East minority sect which is also present in Lebanon, Israel and Jordan.

Syria's civil war has gone on for more than a decade, sparked by a violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted in the south of the country in March 2011, demanding an end to five decades of Assad family rule. The economy in regime-held areas has been in free-fall, with the national currency trading at 4,200 Syrian pounds to the dollar, compared with 50 pounds to the dollar in early 2011.

Armed men reportedly attacked several buildings and roadblocks belonging to a militia headed by Raji Falhout, a pro-regime enforcer in Suweida.

They say Mr Falhout, whose forces are overseen by Military Intelligence, had been spearheading the persecution of members of the Liwa Party, an anti-regime group that has been trying to rid parts of Suweida of kidnapping gangs and drug rings.

The attacking forces freed several Liwa Party members from a detention centre run by Mr Falhout’s group, they said, adding that the attackers lost four men while nine Falhout loyalists were killed.

Suwayda24, a local news network run by civil activists, reported that Mr Falhout has been on the run after the attackers set fire to his home on Wednesday. It said that one of his headquarters that had been seized contained a Captagon factory. The report could not be independently verified.

“Mass discontent has reached its peak against the behaviour of the security agencies in the province and their support for gangs like Falhout’s,” said one resident of Suweida.

“For years these bandits have been choking Suweida,” he added.

Suweida has been spared much of the violence that the regime has employed to crush opposition to President Assad as it has sought to portray itself as a bulwark against Sunni extremism, although it employed force to crush protests in the region in 2011 and 2012.

A de facto waiver of mandatory military conscription has helped placate Suweida but in the last few years lawlessness has spread as the economy in regime-held areas has deteriorated. Kidnappings and armed robberies are becoming common, residents say.

The tiny Druze community comprised about 3 per cent of Syria’s 20 million population in 2010, the last year for relatively reliable statistics. Members of the Alawite minority, the same sect as the president's, have dominated Syria since a 1963 coup.

Peaceful protests over deteriorating living conditions, mainly by young men and women, renewed in Suweida in 2021 and in 2022 before they were crushed, with tacit support from the Druze religious establishment and Russian forces in the area.

The Russian military intervention in 2015 was instrumental in tilting the balance of the conflict in favour of Mr Assad, although he still has no control over large swathes of the country.

A Syrian military defector in Amman said that losses Assad's loyalists have suffered in Suweida are significant politically.

He noted that Druze religious elders, as well as the Russian military, have this time not objected to undermining Mr Falhout's militia.

“He has been playing a valuable role on behalf of the regime,” he said. “But he has overextended to the point that he became expendable to his backers.”

Updated: July 28, 2022, 6:07 AM
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