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21 August 2017

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02/15/2017 SYRIA

As fighting intensifies in Southern Syria, Jordan gets ready to intervene

The city of Dara'a is the scene of fierce fighting between Syria’s regular army and armed rebels. An intervention by Jordan seems a possibility. Jihadis want to “liberate” the country. Meanwhile, discussions centre on a possible Sunni zone from Dara'a to Deir Ez Zor.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – In the last few days, fighting has intensified in Dara’a, southern Syria, pitting armed rebels against Syria’s regular army with most of the action centred outside the city.

A sudden attack by the recently created Jihadi group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham* sparked the new outbreak of violence. On Sunday, Hay'at forces led by Abu Jaber (Hashim al-Shaikh), known for his excellent relations with Ankara and Riyadh, launched the military operation, code-named "Death rather than humiliation" (Al mowt wala al muzuleh).

The attack in Dara'a coincided with the official visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Saudi Arabia, which began on Monday.

The violation in Dara'a of the ceasefire agreement between Jordan (and Turkey) and Russia is not the first. However, it is different from the others because it occurred at a time when talk in Amman and Washington is increasingly about an eventual Sunni zone in Syria, from Dara'a to Deir Ez Zor.

Indeed, a federalisation of the country seems to be on the table, as US General David Petraeus recently suggested.

Although nothing has been confirmed, top Jordanian diplomatic figures are also talking about a direct involvement of Jordanian forces along the lines of Turkey’s action in the north.

Such a plan aims at repeating Ankara’s success in Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ when it militarily occupied the city of Al Bab, Daesh’s last bastion north of Aleppo, this despite the veto of the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has launched attacks in Idlib and Hama against Jund Al Aqsa (Soldiers of al-Aqsa), a Syrian Jihadi group, in what is a sign of generalised fighting in a fragmented context.

Purges and shake-ups among and within Syria’s Jihadi groups are at a crescendo, especially after Hay'at chief Hashim al-Shaikh made a clear choice to unify all Jihadi groups under a single command.

This, he said, means abandoning, “at least temporarily", the idea of ​​creating a Caliphate as called for by the international Jihadi movement, to focus on a war of "liberation" of all Syrian territory.

The fighting in Dara'a against the regular Syrian army is apparently led by Hay'at with 300 men. In fact, the al Nusra Front is involved since the Nūr ad-Dīn az-Zankī group is not present in southern Syria, with the contribution of another 200 men from Ahrār al-Shām, plus some fighters from Bait al-Maqdis and many mercenaries.

Troubles on its border might give Jordan the pretext to enter southern Syria and repeat what Turkey did in the north.

Together with Egypt, Jordan was fiercely criticised by the Saudi Foreign Ministry for concluding an agreement with Russia. Now it finds itself under the obligation of getting directly involved in the Syrian conflict, with all the consequences that this might entail.

However, what interests the most the al Nusra Front is not becoming the scapegoat of the deal with the Russians, and losing out as it did in northern Syria with Turkey.

Reports from the battlefield indicate that the Syrian army is holding its ground, successfully repelling Jihadi attacks; however, this is just one battle in a still long war that may yet reserves surprises.

What transpires is that with this action, Hay'at is trying to weave new international and regional ties so as to be recognised as an essential party in any future reconciliation or solution to the Syrian crisis. (PB)

* Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant.






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