After regime forces and opposition militants, who were entrenched in parts of Tafas in Daraa governorate’s western countryside, reached a ceasefire on July 11, regime forces nevertheless retaliated by rigging and detonating houses belonging to opposition members near the city.
On July 3, regime forces launched a security campaign west of Daraa, between the towns of Yadouda, Mazireeb and Tafas. It was the first time that the regime forces succeeded in penetrating this area after several failed attempts since the reconciliation agreement that covered Syria’s south in mid-2018. The campaign witnessed raids on city areas where opposition militants who had rejected the reconciliation agreement were still entrenched. By July 11, the two sides reached a ceasefire through mediators from the notables of Daraa. It included a deal on the withdrawal of regime forces from around Tafas and the forced displacement of a group of people wanted by the regime forces, including some members of the Al-Zoubi family.
According to The Syria Report’s local correspondent, on July 12, regime forces rigged and detonated the home of Khaldoun Al-Zoubi, a former battalion commander from the Dawn of Islam Division. In August 2022, Khaldoun was killed at a regime checkpoint after leaving a meeting with military security leaders aimed at resolving the crisis in Tafas. Regime forces had previously killed five of Khaldoun’s brothers during the war.
Zoubi’s house was empty at the time of the explosion, as his eight-member family (which included four children) was displaced by recent clashes and sought refuge in a relative’s house elsewhere in Tafas. The house is a traditional “Arab-style” house with a basement and a ground floor, with a total area of about 500 square metres, built on a 20-dunum farm.
Regime forces also detonated a neighbouring traditional Arab-style house belonging to one of Khaldoun Al-Zoubi’s brothers. The 125 square-metres home was built on a more than five-dunum farmland. The six-person family living in the house were forced to flee a few days earlier as armed clashes approached the area. The family was originally from the Al-Lajat area in the northern part of the Daraa governorate and had been displaced to Tafas. Their house had previously been demolished and bulldozed by regime forces in 2018. At that time, the regime detonated several houses in Al-Lajat, coordinating with forces loyal to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which had taken the area as a military base.
Sources from the Al-Zoubi family told The Syria Report that the regime forces’ detonation of Khaldoun and his brother’s homes was a retaliatory measure due to the group led by Khaldoun retaining their arms and rejecting reconciliation.
Regime forces also blew up a government building in Tafas that belonged to the General Directorate of Irrigation in the governorate of Daraa and had been built during the unification of Syria and Egypt, in the late 1950s. It consisted of three rooms and had an area of 150 square metres, built on a four-dunum plot of land surrounded by a concrete wall. A group led by Mohammed Qasim Al-Sabaihi, one of the individuals most wanted by regime forces in Tafas, had previously been based in the building. The regime accuses Sabaihi of affiliation with the Islamic State. A correspondent for The Syria Report, citing local sources, said that the regime blew up this building to prevent Sabaihi’s group from returning to it.
The three buildings that were detonated were located in an area known locally as Samakh, between the towns of Muzayrib, Yadouda and Tafas. Samakh is divided into northern and southern sectors, split by the Muzayrib-Tafas road. The sector south of the road is unzoned, and is considered part of the buffer zone for the city of Daraa’s zoning plan. That is where the three buildings were located. The northern part is zoned and is included within the city’s zoning plan.
Sources in Tafas told The Syria Report that on July 10, regime forces targeted the two-storey house of a nine-member of the Al-Zoubi family in the city with a drone strike, causing material damage. Earlier this year, regime forces also targeted Khaldoun Al-Zoubi’s father’s house with a drone strike, though it didn’t cause significant damage. The building consists of two storeys and is home to more than 15 people, including women and children.
On Sunday morning July 16, before withdrawing due to the ceasefire agreement, regime forces detonated three houses in the Samakh area. The Syria Report’s correspondent indicated that the detonations were meant to facilitate subsequent military sweep operations. Prior to destroying the three homes, regime forces looted their contents, including solar panels and systems for operating the wells in the area.
More than 20 hectares of agricultural land cultivated with vegetables were deliberately looted and destroyed during the over 10-day military escalation. Some of the crops were harvested and sold by regime forces, while others were bulldozed using military vehicles such as tanks and armoured vehicles.
According to local sources, the houses that were targeted inside the city of Tafas are licensed and registered in the Land Registry, while most of the houses that were bombed in the Samakh area are unlicensed except for the building of the Directorate of Irrigation.