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Syria Alawites reportedly clash with regime, Iran troops

According to reports, an Iranian field commander ordered the arrest of young men in the Hama villages of Al-Bared and Al-Qahira.

Syrian fighters. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

BEIRUT – Syrian regime forces backed by Iranian troops have reportedly clashed with residents of two Alawite villages outside Hama following an arrest campaign in the area.

 

Alaraby Aljadeed reported that residents in the rural Hama villages of Al-Bared and Al-Qahira—which are populated by members of the Alawi sect and the Alawi-offshoot Murshidi sect—engaged in fighting Monday with Syrian and Iranian troops.

 

A media activist from the area told the newspaper that clashes had “raged between residents of Al-Bared and Al-Qahira, and Syrian regime forces supported by Iranian [fighters] in western rural Hama’s Al-Ghab Plain, leading to one regime death and three injuries.”

 

“After the clashes, the regime completely surrounded the two villages,” the activist, who identified himself as Anas al-Hamwi, said.

 

The unprecedented round of fighting between the regime-supporting towns and the pro-government troops follows an arrest campaign in the area that was reportedly ordered by a local Iranian field commander. 

 

Unusual arrest campaign

 

According to Alaraby Aljadeed, the clashes came one day after the Syrian army stormed the two villages and arrested a number of young men.

 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on the regime raids in the two towns, saying that government troops had “raided the homes of citizens” on Sunday. However, the British based monitoring group added that there was no confirmation of arrests.

 

Local activist Hamwi explained to Alaraby Aljadeed that there were two reasons for the regime’s campaign against the two villages. First, he said, young men from the area had refused to sign up for military service.

 

Second, residents of the two villages were smuggling fuel in to rebel-held parts of the Al-Ghab Plain.

 

“This is a profitable trade for them,” the activist explained.

 

“They exploit the need of residents in liberated areas for fuel and ramp up the price.”

 

Meanwhile, the activist Hama Media Center said that “a large number of civilian houses were raided in the two villages and over 40 young men were arrested.”

 

Iranian orders

 

Field sources told Alaraby Aljadeed that members of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) had originally stormed the two regime-controlled villages on Sunday with support from members of the regime’s Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence.

 

“They proceeded to arrest more than 22 people and led them away to the military operations headquarters in the nearby [village of] Jourin.”

 

“This was done at the order of the Iranian commander ‘Iffari’, the leader of military operations in Hama Air Base,” the sources added.

 

The Hama Media Center, in turn, said that there are “signs suggesting an Iranian intention to raid other Alawite villages whose young men have refused to join the army’s ranks.”

 

The Syrian regime in recent months has struggled to recruit young men into its armed forces as it suffers setbacks across the country.

 

Alawites, who form the backbone of the Syrian regime, have avoided mandatory military service, forcing the regime to create a special Coastal Shield Brigade in a bid to bring in men who have skipped their compulsory military duties. 

 

The raids on the two Alawite-populated towns come weeks after Iranian officers reportedly took over operational command of the frontlines in the northwest Hama province south of Idlib, which rebels seized in full in early June.

 

The reported handover of power to Iranian officers follows the visit Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani paid to the Jourin area south of Idlib in late May, after which he announced that a “surprise” was being prepared in Syria.

 

The Iraqi Kurdish Bas News outlet on June 8 reported that major command changes had been conducted on the Latakia-Hama-Idlib front following Soleimani’s trip.

 

A Hama-based media activist said that the Syrian regime’s chief of operations in the area, General Jamal Younis, had been removed from his post and replaced by an Iranian general known only by his moniker Iffari, who set up his headquarters in Jourin.

 

In early June, reports emerged that Iranian officers had executed three regime officers in the area after they retreated from advancing rebels in southern Idlib. 

Residents of two pro-regime villages reportedly clashed with Syrian regime and Iranian soldiers. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

This was done at the order of the Iranian commander ‘Iffari’, the leader of military operations in Hama Air Base.