Members of a Bedouin tribe who have been displaced since 2012 from the majority-Druze town of Ariqa, in the northwestern part of Suweida governorate are being prevented from returning despite multiple mediation attempts led by local figures.
Ariqa was once home to hundreds of Bedouins from the Hawasneh clan. They reportedly owned more than 100 houses in the town. Tensions in Ariqa began when security forces started cracking down on members of the Hawasneh clan, accusing them of collaborating with another Bedouin tribe in the nearby Al-Lajat area, which sided with Daraa’s armed opposition in 2012.
Security forces began arresting members of the tribe in Ariqa, spurring residents to flee to neighbouring villages in Al-Lajat for safety.
This situation continued until August 16, 2014, when Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters in Al-Lajat attacked the nearby village of Deir Dama, massacring Druze residents before capturing the village and displacing most local families. As a consequence, a series of clashes occurred between local Druze armed groups and Jabhat Al-Nusra fighters in Deir Dama. The armed groups from Ariqa then attacked the homes of Hawasneh tribe members. The groupsassumed that the tribe had colluded with Jabhat Al-Nusra, which The Syria Report cannot confirm. These attacks pushed remaining tribe members in the town to flee to Al-Lajat. The armed groups subsequently destroyed their empty homes, partially burning them.
The tribe members were repeatedly displaced from various towns in the eastern part of the Daraa governorate after regime forces drove out their residents. They were displaced yet again in 2018 during battles in Al-Lajat following the Russian-backed reconciliation agreement that saw regime forces retake control of southern Syria.
At the time, tribe members were unable to return home to Ariqa, as local armed gangs had taken over their houses and turned them into poultry and livestock farms. Ariqa is under the control of armed gangs, who often kidnap people for ransom across rural western Suweida governorate and along the Damascus-Suweida highway. Some of these gangs have relationships with security forces, and have made multiple settlements with them, the latest of which was in January 2021.
Notables in Ariqa and rural western Suweida governorate have been unable to control these gangs, which have affected peace within the community. Some notables have already attempted negotiation to allow displaced residents to return. All attempts have so far failed due to pressure from security forces, who are exploiting the displacement of the Hawasneh clan to fuel local conflicts.