Baladi News – (Turki Mostafa)
A pressing question frequently raised by those interested in the Syrian affair is; why did Aleppo, the largest Syrian city, fall, whereas Daraa, the birthplace of the revolution, withstood?
The two revolting cities joined the armed confrontation with Assad's regime in 2012, when the factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) decided to capture them, which ended with controlling the majority of residential neighborhoods.
In Aleppo, The al-Tawhid Brigade, led by Abdul Kader Saleh, captured many areas in the city, from al-Khalidiyya neighborhood in the east to Ramouseh in the west, including most of the old city districts, which were called the liberated eastern Aleppo.
In Daraa, the FSA factions controls the majority of the city, known as Daraa al-Balad, while the regime controls the remaining part known as Daraa al-Mahatta.
With the development of events, and due to the regional and international complicity with Assad's regime upon the barbaric attacks of the Russian air forces and the Shiite militias over one year until the city was completely surrounded in the summer of 2012, the factions of the armed opposition retreated from the environs to the central denser neighborhoods, which ended with the fall of Aleppo.
However, Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising, has withstood the invasion and repulsed the Shiite militias.
Daraa and Aleppo, the factors of steadfastness and the reasons of defeat
- Internal Factors
Any research into this issue will not be complete without dealing with the very details of the inter-factions conflict. The internal factors that played a negative role at the political and military levels can be limited to two main points; the consolidation of commanders' rule and the fragmentation of military factions.
- The Consolidation of Commanders and Politicians' Rule
The failure of the revolutionary military factions and political entities to reach a collective work programme has produced, over several years, commanders and warlords. This has resulted in uprooting any collective actions at all the political, administrative, and economic levels. After driving the regime out of most the areas in Syria, the rebels found themselves in deep trouble in managing the conflict with Assad and the affairs of the liberated area due to the lack of a systematic collective work. The alternative was to rally about individuals and consolidating them as leaders and lords without any controls to move them to the collective action space.
- The Fragmentation and Infighting Among Military Factions
The status quo of the factions in Daraa and Aleppo seems similar. In the absence of critical revolutionary thinking, the failure to review the consecutive defeats in Qusayar, Yabroud, Zabadani, the old city of Homs, and Darayya, and the inaction of the political opposition, the grassroots of the revolution became confused and factions lost confidence in each other, which prevented their combination under one political umbrella that would achieve the least of their demands.
Contrary to the calls of the grassroots of revolution, the infighting among the factions grew between the two biggest factions in Aleppo, Fastaqim Union and Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement. This was followed by attacks and attempts to take over headquarters of other factions by Abu Amara Battalions and Tahrir al-Sham. Concurrently, the Shiite militias were trying to snap the entrails of Aleppo city.
The scene was not much different in Daraa in terms of its details. The fragmentation and discord among the military factions pushed the city into a state of lawlessness, including liquidations and assassinations, aggravated by confrontations with the ISIS-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, whereas the frontlines with Assad's regime were frozen amid non-stop attempts by the regime to advance.
- Military Reasons:
When the direct Russian intervention in Syria started in 2015, the Iranian militias waged a massive attack against the headquarters of the rebels' factions exploiting the dense Russian airstrikes. The aim was to paralyze the factions, which forced them to resort to the technique of ambushes and raids on the positions of Iran's militias. Later, the Russian airstrikes were increased, reaching 120 a week, in order to capture Al-Shaykh Maskin town that has a strategic importance due to its location near the supply root of Assad's regime and the Iranian militias. Amid the preparations to control the important town, the factions of Daraa responded quickly by waging an offense that enabled them to drive the regime and militias out of the majority of al-Manshiyya neighborhood. This achievement forced Russia to impose a temporary ceasefire in coordination with the revolution-supporting states.
Here lies the difference with Aleppo. After the Shiite militias had controlled Castello road, the supply rout of these militias, the rebels' activity inside Aleppo was paralyzed. This was preceded by blocking a supply route called Azaz path and losing the northern countryside.
- Tactical Reasons
The urgency and ill-considered movements of the rebels to lift the siege on Aleppo led them to choose a thorny path to reach eastern Aleppo, ignoring the right flank, where the Iranian militias were positioned, which allowed the militias to target the supply route continuously.
In the second attempt, Jaysh al-Fatah failed to break the siege because it chose to advance through al-Assad Suburb, which rendered them easy targets among the spaced modern residential buildings.
- The Lopsided Military Balance
In addition to the aforementioned reasons and factors, what led the factions to withdraw from Aleppo, as well as some areas in Daraa province, is the Russian and Assad's regime massive airstrikes, using all kinds of internationally-prohibited phosphoric, cluster, and napalm bombs. Al-Rashideen area in Aleppo underwent more than 400 airstrikes alone. Long-range missiles were also fired from Russian warships offshore Tartus city. Meanwhile, the rebels fought using small arms and medium-sized machine guns. The campaign was supported by thousands of Shiite militants operating all around the sides of the city. Al-Shaykh Maskin town in Daraa underwent a massive destructive offense by airstrikes and other firearms.
- The International Factor
The American, Russian, French, and British presence in southern Syria reduced the Russian sway and aggressions of the Shiite militias, because the battles in Daraa need careful considerations and guarantees fed by concerns of Shiite expansion near the Jordanian and occupied Palestinian lands.
On the other hand, the plan of taking Aleppo city down was developed by Russia and the United States in the context of a deal to settle some problematic political issues, including Ukraine, the missile shield, and lifting sanctions.
The steadfastness of Daraa rebels in the face of the continued airstrikes and storming attempts caused another failure of Assad's regime and the supporting militias. Therefore, the regime had to announce two ceasefires in a few weeks, which refers to a crisis on the ground.
In addition, Washington, who has a presence in the area, has not approved settling the battle as Obama's administration had done in Aleppo. This has shifted Daraa affair to the international decision-making circles pending the conclusion of understandings after the region became part of international and regional deals.
Accordingly, Astana negotiations avoids taking any decisions regarding the southern region covered by the de-escalation memorandum in the hope of reaching an agreement between Moscow and Washington during the first meeting of Trump and Putin next Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.