Smuggling operations, which are causing security tensions in populated areas along the Syrian-Jordanian border, are directly impacting housing, land, and property rights.
Gunfire from Jordanian border guards on December 3 damaged some homes and vehicles in the border village of Khirbet Awwad, located in the southern part of the Suweida Governorate. It appeared that the Jordanian guards had suspected a cross-border smuggling operation and thus opened fire on a flock of sheep, killing many of them. The incident was not the first of its kind, prompting angry residents to gather at the border and argue with the Jordanian guards. According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, the sheep had been 500 metres from the forbidden zone and were shot while inside village lines, where grazing is allowed. Residents said that the bullets hit the walls of some houses and threatened the lives of farmers who were picking olives from their fields near the border.
Angry residents gathered at the home of the village mukhtar alongside a patrol of Syrian Military Intelligence officers. One of the officers vowed to communicate their pleas to the Syrian authorities and to reach out to Jordanian authorities through liaison officers. On numerous occasions, residents have asked Syrian officials to coordinate with their Jordanian counterparts to set specific times for allowing livestock to graze, but to no avail.
Jordan declared its border area with Syria a closed military zone in 2016. Since then, Jordanian border guards have increased operations to comb the area and open fire on those they suspect of infiltration attempts near the earthen berms marking the border. Drug and livestock smuggling is common in the area.
Smuggling activity tends to increase in the winter season, as smugglers take advantage of foggy weather to carry drugs and sometimes livestock across the border. The Jordanian border guards are rigid in enforcing the closed military zone. In February 2021, they shot and killed a smuggler from the town. Since the beginning of 2020, seven smugglers from the southern Suweida border area have been killed, most of them from Bedouin families. The Syrian border guards usually turn a blind eye to the smugglers in exchange for a share of their profits.
According to an informed local source, owners of homes in Khirbet Awwad facing the border have fled in recent years due to the dangers of living there and due to the infrastructural damage caused by direct gunfire as Jordanian border guards repeatedly attempt to target smugglers. The guards often use explosive munitions that reach as far as the nearby Syrian villages of Al-Mughair and Al-Anat.
Sitting along the borderline, Khirbet Awwad is considered one of the most heavily damaged villages in the southern Suweida Governorate. One resident told The Syria Report that villagers face constant harassment, while Jordanian border guards bar them from letting their livestock graze on village land near the border. Many herders and farmers have subsequently left the village after being cut off from their livelihoods.
Local sources say that only 600 of Khirbet Awwad’s pre-2011 population of 2,500 people still live in the village. Most residents moved to the cities of Suweida and Salkhad, though dozens have left Syria altogether. Along with the fear of being shot, most people from Khirbet Awwad are farmers and livestock herders and have faced a number of challenges to their livelihoods, particularly the breakdown of the only local water well allocated for agricultural development. In addition, available farming and grazing land has shrunk, as a large portion of the village’s land is located inside Jordanian territory, which has been inaccessible to residents since 2016.