Aug 01,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –
Where is the outrage? Last week, Daesh fighters slipped into the Druze-majority Sweida city and countryside and massacred more than 250 civilians, wounded scores and kidnapped three dozen women and men. There was international condemnation when Daesh swept into north-eastern Iraq, slaughtered male Yezidis and abducted Yezidi women and children. Daesh has been accused of genocide for its brutality towards this community. The only voices raised in protest against the Druze massacre were those of Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Syrian Druze living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
There are parallels between the Syrian Druze and Iraqi Yezidis. The monotheistic Druze are considered apostates by Daesh, while the Yezidis are regarded as kafirs or unbelievers. According to Daesh, members of both faiths deserve to be killed or converted to Daesh’s puritanical perversion of Islam.
The Syrian Druze, who are ethnic Arabs, inhabit Jebel Druze, the rugged mountainous area in Sweida province. The Yezidis, who are ethnic Kurds, took refuge from Daesh on their sacred Sinjir Mountains until they were rescued by US helicopters and fighters from the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection units (YPG).
The Syrian Druze are a proud people who took part in their country’s liberation struggles against the Ottomans and the French. During the seven-and-a-half-year Syrian war, they have done their best to keep out of the conflict. A few initially took part in protests, some joined the army and others formed local self-defence units which, on occasion, took part in army offensives against insurgents. The Druze administered their own affairs but maintained a connection with beleaguered Damascus. The Druze stood against Daesh and Al Qaeda offshoots after they entered the war in 2012-2013.
On July 25th, at four in the morning, Daesh suicide bombers infiltrated the Sweida countryside and attacked eleven towns and villages, going house to house, shooting entire families and taking hostages. Daesh fighters installed snipers in the towns and villages they had invaded to fend off Druze defenders. Four suicide bombers entered Sweida city and detonated their devices in a market, two in the centre and one in a building when chased by local men. Druze defenders rallied and drove Daesh from Sweida. The Druze are on alert, as fear of further attacks remains.
This operation in southeast Syria coincided with a Syrian army and Russian air force offensive against Daesh fighters defending a pocket of land in the Yarmouk River Basin at the southernmost tip of the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel.
The Daesh commanders who organised the Sweida operation have demanded the Syrian army and Russians halt their assault on Daesh elements in the Yarmouk basin in exchange for the release of the Druze hostages. However, the operation is nearing its end and there has been no deal for the abductees. The Syrian army has refused to halt anti-Daesh operations in the desert east of Sweida and is fortifying Druze towns and villages.
Daesh fighters, who took part in the Sweida operation, had based themselves in the Syrian desert to the northeast and east of Sweida after being forced by the Syrian army to pull out of the southern Damascus suburbs of Yarmouk and Hajar Al Aswad, where Daesh had a strong presence. Daesh had been compelled to shift to the desert because its fighters had nowhere else to go.
Unlike fighters from Al Qaeda’s Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham, Daesh could not go to the North-western Syrian province of Idlib because Al Qaeda’s Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham, Daesh’s rival, is the dominant force there. Turkey did not allow Daesh fighters to enter its pockets of territory in the north, although Ankara had offered refuge to Tahrir and other taqfiri fighters from Eastern Ghouta when they were evacuated in April.
The Syrian government and its Russian ally have been sharply criticised by the Druze for allowing Daesh remnants to roam the desert east and northeast of Sweida. Daesh survivors are found in Deir Ezzor province and elsewhere.
Last October when this correspondent drove in convoy with Syrian soldiers from Homs to Deir Ezzor city, newly liberated from Daesh, troops were deployed on the hilltops on the right of the road to prevent Daesh elements from attacking traffic. Desert areas which cannot be effectively cleared of Daesh fighters provide refuges for the movement in Iraq, as well as Syria.
Daesh has reasserted itself in Iraq following its rout from Mosul and other cities in the north. The taqfris have carried out bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, the modus operandi of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the parent of both Daesh and Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham, originally Jabhat Al Nusra. Most attacks take place in remote areas but it is likely that Daesh fighters will, once again, infiltrate the country’s cities and towns and resume operations there.
No one wants Daesh fighters or their families. They have no place to go and can be counted upon to fight to keep what little territory they still hold in Syria and Iraq. What can be done about them? If they are foreigners, their home countries do not want them back. If they are locals, they pose problems for both Damascus and Baghdad.
Daesh fighters captured in Iraq during the campaign to wrest Mosul and other cities from their control are being given summary trials and executed, women included. Human rights organisations have protested without result. Syria jails Daesh captives.
In northern Syria, the US-backed Kurdish militia holds women and children, both Europeans and Arabs, in a camp while more than 1,000 men from nearly 50 countries, including the US, Turkey, Russia and Tunisia, are detained separately in schools under tight security. Russia has agreed to repatriate its citizens but many other countries refuse. Daesh veterans are considered enduring threats. With a Daesh past behind them, they have no future. This makes fugitive survivors particularly brutal when they carry out attacks.