Dozens of Syrians held a rally in the southern city of Daraa this week to protest against military conscription enforced by the Syrian regime, as frustration over government reprisals in the former opposition stronghold grows.
Scores of protesters, primarily young men, rallied on Tuesday to condemn the raiding of their homes by intelligence services, as well as the ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests and forced recruitment. They called for the government to abide by the terms of the reconciliation agreement signed last July, in which opposition forces relinquished control of the area and retreated in return for the safety and security of civilians left behind.
According to local sources, the latest protests were prompted when hundreds of young men from the town of Nawa in rural Daraa arrived at recruitment centres on Monday, after intelligence services threatened reprisals against them and their families if they did not present themselves for military service.
The reconciliation deal brokered between the Syrian government and the opposition last year stipulated a six month period by which time the initial terms of the agreement were to have been implemented. Now at the end of January, residents still complain of conscription and rampant arrests. According to the Daraa’s Martyrs Documentation Office, at least 132 people have been arrested since July; 26 died as a result of torture in detention.
Several supporters of the opposition have also had their properties repossessed by the state under allegations they have supported terrorism. Justified under the controversial Law Ten, numerous activists, members of local councils and humanitarian workers, including those who worked with the UN, have found themselves and their family members deprived of their property.
Lawyers and NGOs have condemned Law Ten as a violation of the right of ownership protected by international law; activists say that the move is an act of revenge against those that supported the revolution, and recall that a similar policy was implemented by former President Hafez Al-Assad in the 1980s.
The reconciliation deal has also not acknowledged previous decrees issued by both the Syrian Interim Government and the Syrian Coalition which administered the province over the past seven years. Without issuing new legislation, this has led to the cessation of many public services, including some universities, with schools in other parts of the country not recognising qualifications attained under opposition civil authorities in Daraa.
Demonstrations against the regime have become increasingly common in the south of the country, still considered the “Cradle of the Revolution” having witnessed some of the earliest protests against President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011. Frustrated at Damascus and allied Russian forces for not adhering to the terms of the deal, protesters have gathered at the symbolic Al-Omari Mosque several times since November, calling for the government to uphold its commitments.
Although tight security in Daraa has prevented the rallies from growing significantly, the government has failed to suppress resistance completely. In November, a small opposition group, the Popular Resistance of Daraa, formed with the stated objective of liberating the south of the country from the forces of the regime and the allied Iranian militias. Targeting security officials and checkpoints, the group has launched guerrilla-style attacks across the province.
Anti-government graffiti has also started to appear on walls in several towns and villages, celebrating the Syrian uprising with slogans such as “The revolution continues” and “Down with Al-Baath party”.
The war in Syria, now approaching its ninth year, has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces.