Syrian regime sends military reinforcements to Suweida, sparking fears of crackdown

Syrian regime sends military reinforcements to Suweida, sparking fears of crackdown
The Syrian regime has sent military reinforcements and soldiers to the Syrian province of Suweida, causing fears it will crack down on peaceful protests there.
3 min read
30 April, 2024
Syrian regime authorities have largely spared protesters in Suweida from the violence they have employed against other protesters in the country. [Getty]

The Syrian regime sent military reinforcements to the southern Syria province of Suweida over the weekend, prompting fear that it would crack down on the nine-month-long protest movement there.

Videos published on Syrian media showed columns of military vehicles and soldiers being transported on the roads leading to Sweida. The Syrian regime has not yet commented on the reasons for the troop transfers.

Security forces came from Damascus and dispersed inside Suweida, as well as were reinforced by a Republican Guard brigade carrying tanks in the Khalkhala airport in the northern part of the province.

For the last nine months, protesters have railed against the Syrian regime in the Druze-majority province of Suweida. Initially sparked by price hikes and economic grievances in the fall of 2023, protests since have turned to demanding the fall of the Syrian regime.

The Syrian regime has held off on putting the protests down with force, unlike in other parts of the country where it has killed and tortured tens of thousands of protesters since the country's revolution in 2011. One protester was killed in February after security forces fired on demonstrators who attacked a government building.

The renewed security presence in Suweida province have prompted fears that the regime's so far lax policy towards protest could be about to change.

"This is the first time the governorate has witnessed reinforcements in this way. This is all done with the aim of putting pressure on the peaceful movement which has been ongoing for nine months," Rayan al-Maarouf, the editor of newsite Suwayda24, told The New Arab.

Local religious and political dignitaries held a meeting on Monday to discuss possible responses to the regime's military movements.

The spiritual head of the province's Druze sect, Hikmat al-Hijri, issued a statement sharply warning against any escalation, saying the people of Suweida were "ready to defend their homeland."

The Druze have a number of armed factions which have ousted regime-affiliated militias in the past after they kidnapped and held people for ransom.

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Tension between the regime and local militias in Suweida escalated last week after a regime officer was kidnapped in response to the arrest of a university student who participated in Suweida protests.

The spiritual and political leadership in Suweida have said that they are waiting to see the regime's next moves before deciding on any course of action.

While a full-scale military operation in the province is unlikely, the regime may begin to impose increased security measures, such as establishing new checkpoints and detaining wanted individuals. Whether or not this leads to escalation depends on how severe these new measures are, Maarouf explained.

"There are fears that these measures may plunge the governorate into a spiral of violence," Maarouf said.