Over the past few weeks, much of the world’s focus has been drawn to Turkey’s border with Greece, where a new refugee and migrant crisis is unfolding. This comes as Turkey’s southern border with Syria is also facing a crisis, where Ankara and Damascus have faced off for weeks. Meanwhile, in Syria’s south-east, Bashar Al Assad’s regime is dealing with increasing internal turmoil. Anti-government attacks in regime-held areas are a recurring phenomenon, and reveal the fragility of Mr Al Assad’s hold on the areas his forces claim to control.
Last week, in Deraa governorate, home to a large city of the same name where the 2011 Syrian revolution began, the Syrian Arab Army seized the town of Sanamayn. The move triggered the first outbreak of heavy violence the governorate has seen in two years. A total of 30 rebel and pro-regime fighters have been killed.
The timing of the operation is critical for the regime. It allows Mr Al Assad’s forces to claim victory in the south and to project an aura of strength at a time when the SAA is heavily challenged in the north. The offensive has also proved regime claims that a military victory is the only way to end the war and bring stability back to Syria, to be completely unfounded. Even in areas that have supposedly been under regime control for years, violent outbreaks are frequent, and while dissent may have died down, it has not died away completely, even in Damascus.
A former senior rebel leader told The National that, before the regime operation, attacks had been happening in Sanamayn on a weekly basis. Just last month an unclaimed blast targeted a Baath party office in the Damascene countryside. At least seven such attacks have taken place in the last few weeks, several of them targeting government facilities inside the capital.
Anti-government reprisals are not isolated incidents. Since the launch of the operation in Sanamayn, protests and attacks on security services have flared up in Deraa city. In January, sporadic demonstrations also broke out in neighbouring Suwaida, Syria’s druze heartland, against deteriorating living conditions.
These incidents have shown that pockets of dissent still remain outside northern Syria. This is an unsurprising revelation as Mr Al Assad has done little in the way of addressing the basic concerns voiced by Syrians in the past nine years since the uprising. The wall of fear erected by the regime over decades fell with the start of the uprising in 2011, and many ordinary people are willing to take enormous risks in order to take to the streets. Militant groups are also willing to carry out their own operations deep in regime territory.
At a time when many have given up hope for a political settlement to end the war, these new developments in Deraa prove that military intervention cannot guarantee long-term peace or stability in Syria. It can only prolong the status quo instead of addressing the deepest issues that led to the conflict and its continuation. A serious political effort is vital to ending this ongoing tragedy.