The Fall of Der’aa: Assad’s Counter-Revolution Triumphant

By Javier Sethness

Aftermath of Assad regime air strikes over residential areas in Der’aa, Syria, 14 June 2017 (Muhammed Yusuf/Anadolu Agency)

The latest news from southern Syria is that Assad Regime forces, backed by heavy Russian aerial bombardment, Iranian artillery strikes, and allied paramilitary infantry, have fully retaken the revolutionary city of Der’aa near the southwestern border with Jordan. This is the very “birthplace” of the Syrian Revolution, as it was in this city in March 2011 that 15-year old Mouawiya Syasneh and his comrades, expressing their youthful sympathies for the ongoing Arab Revolts—which by that time had toppled Zine al-Abidine bin Ali and Hosni Mubarak—wrote graffiti on a wall in southern Der’aa, proclaiming in Arabic, “Your turn, Doctor,”[1] “Freedom” (حرية), and “The People Want the Fall of the Regime” (الشعب يريد السقوط النظام).

The indignation felt at the regime’s callous threat to disappear fifteen teenage boys accused of collectively authoring such seditious messages was the spark for the Syrian Revolution against Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party. As of mid-June 2018, Syasneh was still alive and fighting the Regime, following his taking up of arms, presumably with the Free Syria Army’s (FSA) Southern Front, in 2013. At that time, he declared that his “opinion of the revolution ha[d]n’t changed. For us, the revolution continues,” whereas his comrade Samer Syasneh recalled that, “In the beginning, I was proud of being the reason for the revolution against oppression. But with all the killing, the displacement and the homelessness over the years, sometimes I feel guilty.”

There is no lack of evidence of destruction in Syria. Since March 2011, armed conflict in Syria has caused 3 million homes to be razed, with the Regime accused of responsibility for 90 percent of this destruction. More than half a million Syrians have been killed, including 200,000 civilians, and the Assad-Putin-Iran axis has been found responsible for more than 90 percent of these civilian deaths. More than half the country’s population, or about 12 million people, have been displaced either internally or across international borders—though in the face of a resurgent chauvinism both in Europe and the United States, as in countries neighboring Syria, increasingly more refugees are being forced to return, in violation of international law, despite the immense risks. The fate of Der’aa, bombed into submission by Russia, Iran, and the Regime and thus violently reintegrated into the Ba’athist State, resembles that of Darayya, Eastern Aleppo, and Eastern Ghouta, other rebel-held territories that have fallen in the recent months and years, after having been subjected to devastating scorched-earth tactics.

An estimated 350,000 Syrians fled the Regime’s offensive against the Der’aa governorate which began on June 12, being so forced to enter the desert and request asylum from neighboring Jordan and Israel, both of which cruelly maintained their borders closed, notwithstanding the plea by the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria that 750,000 lives were at risk. Several displaced children have been reported as dying already due to thirst, scorpion bites, and exposure, and the Regime has repeatedly bombed field hospitals for the displaced. At least two hundred civilians died in Regime and axis attacks on the city. Many of those displaced lacked rudimentary shelter against the desert heat and winds, with little to no food. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government shamelessly has refused entry to these would-be refugees, and even clarified that it would provide material aid to these “enemies of the State” only insofar as Assad would permit this. Indeed, in a telling manifestation of capitalism’s basis in accumulation by dispossession, both Jordan and the Syrian Regime have celebrated Assad’s capture of the Nasib-Jaber border crossing from FSA control, anticipating a reactivation of exploitation and extraction within the free-trade zone that had existed there until the Revolution. Nevertheless, the Jordanian people have mobilized in a spirit of mutual aid to support those fleeing Assad and Putin’s war machine.

As in Aleppo and Ghouta, rebels in eastern Der’aa ultimately surrendered on July 6, negotiating a relinquishing of their heavy weapons to the Russians in exchange for their forcible transfer to the Idlib province, the last region of Syria controlled by the opposition (which does not include Turkish occupation forces or Kurdish militias). Even so, the Regime violated these terms and refused exit to certain rebel groups from Der’aa three days later, leading to fears for the safety of hundreds of journalists in the city. The one concession gained by the rebels, that Der’aa be occupied by Russian military police rather than Assad Regime forces, does not appear reassuring with regard to the fate of those displaced by the fighting, even assuming it is observed in good faith.

As of July 11, most of those asylum seekers on the Jordanian border had returned to Der’aa, whether their homes were still there or not. As Saeed, one of the displaced, put it, “I came back because we were left with two options: either to die of dehydration on the Jordanian border, or to admit that we have lost this war and accept life under a government which Dera’a sparked an uprising against.”

In surveying this outcome, the crushing of the Syrian Revolution, we see that the Trump Regime, like the Obama administration before it, has sought to appease Assad rather than confront him, as is reflected in its cutting-off of the White Helmets and its inaction in light of the offensive against previously US-supported rebel groups in Der’aa. As during its symbolic limited strikes against Assad Regime targets in April 2018 following the Douma gas massacre, the Pentagon reiterated to the FSA that it should not expect further military support amidst the assault on Der’aa. Clearly, this standing-aside was coordinated with Putin, whom Trump will be surreptitiously meeting for a summit in Helsinki today—the indictment of 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Clinton campaign’s servers on Friday notwithstanding. In this, Trump is joined by Israel, which paradoxically enough considers Putin and Assad almost as allies. All four of these regimes, together with the Iranian regime, share a common hostile view toward any revolutionary mass-struggle, and Assad’s brutally sectarian strategy tellingly strikes a chord with white supremacists.[2] The ethno-religious hierarchies upheld by all these regimes are on full display due to their militarism.

As an aid worker in Der’aa observed, it is as though “the entire world is fighting against the revolution, and therefore it cannot continue.”

Now that Der’aa has fallen, how many more will die in Assad’s prisons? The Regime has forcibly disappeared nearly 82,000 Syrians. How many more will be tortured and raped? #SaveTheRest

[1] This is a reference to the fact that Bashar al-Assad is a trained ophthalmologist, his mass-violation of the Hippocratic Oath notwithstanding.

[2] Little surprise, then, that Euro-American fascists support the Assad Regime.

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