The Syrian government has deployed troops to the southern city of Daraa after receiving the green light to launch a large-scale operation against opposition cells, state news agency Al-Masdar reported yesterday.
The military arrived at the Al-Balad axis in the provincial capital and to the outskirts of the town of Tafas yesterday, where opposition fighters still control some checkpoints and security.
The arrival comes a day after Daraa witnessed protests celebrating the eighth anniversary of the Syrian revolution. Although the southern province was recaptured by the regime last July, under the negotiation deal, opposition groups have maintained some control over checkpoints surrounding the Old City, such that protests were allowed to take place.
Dozens of demonstrators held up the three-star flag of the Syrian revolution, calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and a political transition.
Photos were held of martyrs from the city, including 13-year-old Hamza Al-Khateeb who was killed in some of the earliest days of the uprising, as well as detainees still held in regime prisons.
Flying the revolution's flag cheering "We want the detainees", civilian from Daraa (where Assad regime recaptured control after a barbaric military campaign last year). People are back on the streets denouncing Assad rule. pic.twitter.com/WcqTEOrosP
— Zouhir Al-Shimale (@ZouhirAlShimale) March 18, 2019
Protesters also reportedly vandalised the controversial new statue of former President Hafez Al-Assad, installed in the city centre earlier this month, prompting outrage from locals. Reports suggest that patrols have now been initiated to protect the monument from further unrest.
Daraa, remembered as the "Cradle of the Revolution", has witnessed demonstrations on several occasions in recent months, as frustration over government reprisals in the former opposition stronghold grows. Rallies have condemned home raids conducted by intelligence services, as well as the ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests and forced recruitment, violating the terms of reconciliation deal.
Although tight security in most of 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.
It is believed that the Syrian army's next campaign will target the new militia, as well as the existing opposition infrastructure around Al-Balad and Tafas, potentially bringing renewed military conflict to the region.
Syria's civil war, now in its ninth year, has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces