Residents still living in the village of Borid in the rural southern part of the Suweida governorate were driven from their homes yet again last week, as they fled the latest clashes between armed groups from Daraa and Suweida.
Borid sits some 40 kilometres south of Suweida city, and was home to only 400 residents before 2011, including Druze and Bedouin tribespeople. The village is between the town of Busra Al-Sham in rural eastern Daraa Governorate and Qarayya in southern Suweida. The two towns have witnessed an escalating civil conflict since the start of 2020.
The crisis began earlier this year, when fighters from the Russian-backed Eighth Brigade of the Fifth Corps, stationed in Busra Al-Sham, advanced into Suweida, where they set up dirt berms and military points within the lands of Qarayya. The Eighth Brigade refused to withdraw from land it had advanced on, despite clashes with armed Druze groups in March 2020. As a result, regime forces and local Druze factions had stationed themselves in Borid.
The Eighth Brigade is led by Ahmad Al-Odeh, former commander of the rebel Shabab Al-Sunnah faction, and a local figure at the forefront of the Russian-backed reconciliation drive with the regime as Damascus recaptured southern Syria in 2018. The terms of reconciliation included the creation of the Eighth Brigade to absorb former rebel fighters into the regime’s fold.
During last week’s fighting, Eighth Brigade forces shot mortar shells at Borid and Qarayya, causing civilian casualties. Regime forces and Druze fighters retreated from Borid, allowing the Eighth Brigade to advance and take control. Remaining residents fled for safety.
Continued control over the village by the Eighth Brigade may deter Druze residents from returning to Borid due to the lack of trust between the two parties. And although Odeh expressed his desire for civil peace through a video clip posted on YouTube on October 2, he made no steps to withdraw, including from the new sites into which his forces advanced.
The tensions over Borid began in early 2012, when opposition factions seized control of the rural eastern parts of the Daraa governorate, preventing Druze farmers in the village from accessing their farmland, as they feared harassment and kidnapping by some gangs affiliated with the rebels. Since then, residents of the village have gradually moved to nearby Qarayya. Bedouin residents of Borid were also hurt by an inability to cultivate their wheat and barley. They were also reliant on raising livestock for income and were pushed to flee.
Then in 2015, regime forces withdrew from Busra Al-Sham as rebel factions, led by Odeh’s Shabab Al-Sunna group, captured the town. Regime forces subsequently used nearby Borid as an observation point to monitor the area and built other military points amid civilian homes. As a result, rebel forces in Busra Al-Sham often fired mortar shells on Borid, damaging homes and pushing residents to flee for safety.
After rebel-regime reconciliation in Daraa in 2018, some residents returned home to Borid, and the local primary school was reopened. Fewer regime forces were stationed in the village. However, extensive damage, lack of services and cut-offs of water and electricity deterred many residents from returning.