Suweida militia asks Russia to expel Iran, Hezbollah from Syrian region

Suweida militia asks Russia to expel Iran, Hezbollah from Syrian region
Demands included an end to military conscription and the provision of international aid to the province.
3 min read
08 August, 2022
The regime has typically responded to resistance with overwhelming force [Getty]

A prominent militia in Suweida, The Men of Dignity, submitted a list of demands to a Russian military delegation on Sunday, following weeks of tension and armed clashes with regime-backed forces.

The list of eight demands, published on social media on Sunday night, asked for more autonomy for the majority-Druze province and an end to Iranian influence in the area.

"From this moment, anyone who follows Iran and Hezbollah in Suweida is a legitimate target for us," Sheikh Laith al-Balaous, the head of a local militia, said after the demands were issued.

It also asked for an end to the drafting of men from Suweida into the regime army, the release of local residents from prisons, allowing international aid access to the province, and the removal of regime's security services from the area.

The Russian delegation said that they would relay the demands to Damascus, according to local news monitory Al-Suwayda 24.

The Russian military has served as a go-between for local militias and the regime in the south of Syria since the summer of 2018, though it is the political and military patron of the regime.

The issuing of the list follows clashes and tensions between local militias and regime-backed factions in the area. On 27 July, The Men of Dignity raided a regime-backed militia - The Dawn Forces - and arrested all of its members.

The corpse of one of its members was dumped at a downtown roundabout on 1 August.

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The Dawn Forces and other regime-affiliated militias had earned the ire of local residents for allegedly being behind kidnappings, assassinations and drug trafficking in the southern Syrian province.

Since arresting the Dawn Forces, The Men of Dignity have pressured other regime-backed militias to disarm or vacate the area. Another faction, the Al-Fahd forces, disbanded after a local militia gave it a two-day ultimatum to hand over its weapons.

Suweida managed to distance itself from much of the conflict of the Syrian civil war, as the Druze population has held a historic autonomy. For the last three years, however, relations between Damascus and Suweida have worsened as Syria's economic crisis deepened.

Residents of Suweida launched demonstrations under the slogan "We Want to Live", to protest rising prices. The regime's response was to arrest dozens of protesters, angering the local population.

Since then, security conditions in the province have continued to degrade. Armed gangs operated with little response from Damascus, leading residents to suspect that the gangs worked on the regime's orders.

Videos circulating after The Dawn Forces’ headquarters were raided appeared to confirm this suspicion, with captagon-making equipment and regime security ID cards allegedly found in the house.

Though the regime has generally taken a softer approach to Suweida when compared to other provinces, its response to armed resistance has typically been military action.

As Suweida issued its demands, the regime shelled the neighbouring province of Daraa, apparently in response to the refusal of local residents to hand over men wanted by the regime.