2021 bloody year for Daraa as deaths decline elsewhere in Syria
A report by local pro-opposition media organisation “Horan Free League” recorded 636 people killed in Daraa Province alone last year, of which almost half were civilians. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), 1,271 civilians were killed in 2021 – the lowest number in years. Notably, SNHR figures do not include combatants, unlike the Horan Free League.
The province witnessed unrest over the summer mainly due to the siege of a rebel stronghold, the Daraa al-Balad neighbourhood, and the ensuing confrontation between government and opposition forces. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and allied militias cut off roads and supplies into Daraa al-Balad in June, seeking to reestablish control over the turbulent region.
Killings reached their peak in July and August, during the conflict between government and opposition forces. In addition to casualties, the fighting produced a wave of displaced people from Daraa Province, with the UN estimating up to 35,000 residents displaced.
The leading cause of death was assassination by unknown actors. Since being reclaimed by the regime in the summer of 2018, Daraa has been plagued by insecurity – a key feature of which is assassinations. Both former opposition figures promised amnesty by the regime have been assassinated, as well as regime officials and SAA soldiers.
Following its victory in Daraa al-Balad, the Syrian regime forged new “reconciliation” agreements, meant to give amnesty to former opposition figures and dictate the terms of the regime’s presence in southern Syria. Under the new agreements, Damascus stationed soldiers and set up more security checkpoints within Daraa province, while rebels handed over light weaponry.
These new agreements were touted by pro-regime media as a way of ending the security chaos of the last three years. According to the Horan Free League report however, assassinations quickly ramped back up to pre-settlement levels after a brief respite in August.
In addition to assassinations, dozens of civilians were tortured to death while in regime detention, or died as a result of artillery shelling and unexploded landmines. Former opposition fighters killed at least six civilians as well.
Almost 200 SAA soldiers were killed in Daraa over the course of the year (included in the total casualty count). The vast majority of these victims were conscripts (75 percent), though 33 officers died as well.
Activists from Daraa have warned that despite a renewed regime presence in the province, security conditions have not improved and arbitrary arrests have continued. Human rights bodies regularly issue reports that indicate conditions within Syria are not safe for civilians due to harassment and abuse from regime officials and opposition militias.
Syria’s civil war has gone on for over a decade, killing at least 350,000 people and displacing about half of Syria’s population.