Jordanian army condemns Syria after border shootout tied to drugs

Two armed clashes between security forces and drug smugglers have occurred in the past three weeks

The ruins of Umm Jimal, a Roman city in Jordan near the border with Syria, an area that has been a hotspot for smuggling. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National
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The Jordanian military has blamed Damascus for increased drug smuggling into the kingdom from southern Syria, after the second major narcotics-related shoot-out on the border in three weeks.

Several drug and weapons smugglers who crossed the northern border from Syria have been killed in clashes that began at dawn on Saturday, the army said.

"The responsibility lies with the Syrian state," Brigadier Mustafa Al Hiyari, the army's spokesman, told state TV late on Sunday. "The responsibility lies with this [Syrian] government [for] any presence of militias, regardless of their ties."

"Behind this organised action is outside agendas," he added, without elaborating.

Jordan had toned down its criticism of Syria, as well as Iran, over the flow of illegal drugs after a regional rapprochement last year with President Bashar Al Assad. Tehran supports Hezbollah and other militias present on Syria's southern border with Jordan.

The Syrian President had been largely ostracised since the authorities used deadly force to suppress a pro-democracy protest movement that broke out in 2011.

It was the last of the wave of Arab uprisings at the beginning of that decade. By the end of the year, Syria was in civil war.

The authorities in Amman had repeatedly blamed the Syrian military and allied militias supported by Iran for the flow of drugs, particularly the amphetamine-like Captagon, which has also been smuggled into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Iran and Hezbollah say the allegations are part of a western plot against them. Syrian authorities deny complicity with Iranian-backed militias.

Brig Al Hiyari said repeated discussions with Syrian authorities on the issue "did not bear fruit," as attempts to smuggle drugs and weapons have increased.

"The objective is to build incubators in the Jordanian interior to oversee the smuggling," he said, without giving details on what the plan would entail.

On December 18, hundreds of smugglers and militants transporting drugs and weapons tried to overrun the kingdom's frontier defences.

Up to 220 gunmen armed with advanced weapons and aided by the direct participation of a Hezbollah-linked militia stormed the border area, security officials and members of the Syrian opposition to Mr Al Assad said.

The Jordanian army has responded with increased air strikes in Syria, aimed at suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers, Jordanian and regional intelligence sources said.

Security forces in the kingdom have stepped up a campaign against drug dealers after protracted clashes in November with dozens of heavily armed infiltrators from Syria linked to pro-Iranian militias.

Iran has consolidated its control over parts of Syria in the past eight years of the civil war. It has done so mainly through Lebanese and Iraqi militias but local armed groups have also been formed.

Hezbollah moved to areas close to the border with Jordan after a deal in 2018 between Russia, the US and Israel to hand over the area from anti-Assad rebels to the Syrian regime's military.

The deal was part of an alignment of zones of control in Syria after the Russian intervention in the civil war in 2015. Moscow has also acted as a mediator in the regional rapprochement with Damascus, which has cooled in recent months.

Updated: January 08, 2024, 9:51 AM