After the settlement deals in southern Syria earlier this year, the regime launched a security campaign against displaced Bedouin tribes from the Suweida Governorate residing in the eastern part of the neighbouring Daraa Governorate. These displaced tribes have faced violations impacting their rights to housing and have few options for relocating, as many are unable to return to their hometowns.
Security forces claim that the attacks against these tribes have been aimed at “terrorist cells” that use displaced encampments as bases to carry out assassinations against regime members across the Daraa Governorate. However, the raids have caused the deaths of three civilians in recent weeks, as well as arbitrary arrests, the burning of tents, and the looting of livestock and other property.
According to one local source, security forces attacked a small encampment near the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh two weeks ago without warning, burning five tents and looting about 20 head of livestock. Security personnel also killed a teenage boy under the age of 18 and kidnapped his brother, the source told a correspondent for The Syria Report. Afterwards, some people who had been sheltering in the encampment fled to the outskirts of Jassem, a city in the western part of the Daraa Governorate, where they faced yet another raid. However, intervention by residents and notables from Jassem helped protect the newly displaced families and their possessions.
During clashes between regime forces and gunmen in the town of Nahteh last week, security personnel raided yet another displacement camp in the eastern part of the Daraa Governorate. One victim told The Syria Report that security personnel beat him and raided his tent despite having already verified his identity and that he was not wanted by security forces. Personnel then ordered him to leave the area and threatened to kill him if he stayed, the victim added. He and his family fled to the outskirts of the village of Al-Dareh, home to several Bedouin tribes, in the eastern part of neighbouring Suweida Governorate. The man had previously submitted a request to Military Security in 2020 for permission to return to his home village of Al-Saqieh in another part of Rural Suweida, he told The Syria Report. His request was denied because regime forces had reportedly taken his house to use as a military site.
Notables from the Bedouin tribes of Al-Lajat and Suweida held a meeting two weeks ago in the rural eastern part of the Daraa Governorate, where they denounced the increased violations and raids, as well as the restrictions they faced. Attendees decided to form a committee to reach out to the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Southern Syria to raise the issue of their suffering and to meet with the security committee responsible for the Daraa Governorate. Atop the attendee’s list of demands were to stop the arbitrary raids of their displacement camps, stop the abuses, preserve their dignity, and repair the infrastructure and rehabilitate destroyed buildings in their home villages so that they may return.
Some Bedouin tribes from the Suweida Governorate have been displaced in successive waves to neighbouring Daraa since 2013 for numerous reasons, including worsening relations with their Druze neighbours. The two groups have often differed over their political stances. Sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the area have also escalated since 2012. These clashes have only been fueled by some Bedouin residents’ affiliation with opposition factions in Daraa, including some extremist Islamist factions, as well as by kidnappings on both sides. However, the largest wave of displacement happened in 2015 as Bedouins from the Al-Asfar, the largest gathering of Bedouins in northeastern Suweida Governorate, after it was controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and then later the opposition factions. Regime forces recaptured Al-Asfar in 2018. The fighting destroyed local infrastructure and damaged most of the houses in 10 villages. Furthermore, regime forces completely razed some Bedouin villages in the nearby Al-Lajat area in 2018, including the village of Housh Hammad.
Despite Russian mediation in 2019, regime forces only allowed a partial return of Bedouin to the northeastern part of the Suweida Governorate under the condition that they undergo a security settlement process, obtain security permit, and joining the ranks of those who had failed to perform their mandatory military service. Only a few Bedouin have returned, most of them livestock workers. Government delays in rehabilitating infrastructure, such as electricity and water networks, the presence of regime and Palestinian Liberation Army checkpoints, and the regime’s takeover of some homes and schools as military headquarters, and unexploded missiles and mines have preventd a more extensive return.