BEIRUT – The numerous factions in the Free Syrian Army-linked coalition in Daraa have begun to merge together under the aegis of new divisions amid reports the Southern Front was moving toward a comprehensive reorganization.
Three new opposition groups—the Division of Decisiveness, the Gathering of Righteousness, and the 46th Infantry Division—have in the past week announced their formation out of the mergers of ten smaller Free Syrian Army factions in the region.
The move comes after the Al-Modon reported Sunday Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC) that helps coordinate rebel operations in southern Syria pushed the broad FSA coalition active on the front to further unite the opposition.
An unnamed source in the Southern Front—an alliance of 58 opposition groups—told the online outlet that foreign powers involved in operating the MOC decided last Thursday to merge the opposition factions behind four rebel factions in the region: the Youth of Sunnah Brigade, Yarmouk Army, 24th Infantry Division and Amoud Houran Division.
According to the source, the MOC considers the four groups to be the “most organized in southern Syria,” a front that has witnessed a recent bout of fighting between the ISIS-affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade and rebel factions not far from the Golan demarcation line between Syria and Israel.
However, Colonel Youssef Merhi—the commander of one of the units involved in the recent mergers—denied to Al-Modon that that “foreign pressures” were behind the formation of one of the new divisions, saying instead that it was spurred by “revolutionary and popular demand to meet the challenges that beset the Syrian revolution.”
Other pro-rebel outlets also reported that efforts were underway to restructure the disparate Southern Front coalition, with Ennab Baladi claiming Tuesday that the MOC was working to merge together rebel brigades in four new division.
“The formation of the Division of Decisiveness was the first result of these mergers,” the outlet cited sources in the Southern Front as saying.
The FSA-linked coalition had notched a series of stunning successes against government troops in the spring of 2015, however its campaigns ground down in the summer after the failure of the “Southern Storm” offensive to seize the provincial capital Daraa.
Reports began to emerge in September that the MOC had scaled back its support for the coalition, while rebels started complaining about a lack of assistance as their military successes dried up.
Division of Decisiveness
Division of Decisiveness opening statement.
The newest rebel merger in southern Syria was unveiled Tuesday morning, when the Division of Decisiveness issued a statement heralding its creation.
The Division of Decisiveness touted its formation as a step toward “any organized, institutional military action on the path to liberating Syria.”
Three FSA-affiliated groups joined together to form the division: the Fajr al-Tawheed Division, which was formed in July 2014, the Freedom Martyrs Division and the Amoud Houran Division, the largest of the three.
Amoud Houran has previously received US anti-tank guided missiles and is one of the oldest units operating southern Syria.
Colonel Qassem al-Hariri was appointed the leader of the Division of Decisiveness, only one day after he was replaced as chief of the Amoud Houran Division in preparation for the merger.
Gathering of Righteousness
Rebel commanders announce the formation of the 46th Infantry Division. (YouTube)
Four FSA-linked groups merged together on April 16 to form the Gathering of Righteousness, which is led by Colonel Ibrahim al-Ghourani, the former commander of the Brigade of Two Holy Mosques, one of the component units in the new division.
The Gathering of Righteousness also includes the Brigade of the Martyrs of Harah formed in April 2014, the Special Tasks Brigade formed in May 2013, the Southern Storm Brigade formed in November 2012, and the 99th Infantry Division formed in February 2015.
Detractors of the Brigade of Two Holy Mosques accused it of ties to Israel, with a video leaked in 2014 purporting to show one of the leaders of the factions admitting to have visited Syria’s arch-foe neighbor a number of times.
The group’s joining together to from the Gathering of Righteousness operate near the Israeli-Syrian demarcation line.
46th Infantry Division
46th Infantry Division opening statement.
On April 12, the 46th Infantry division announced its creation, saying its formation aimed to create the framework for united military action to “liberate Syria.”
The new division is made up of the 24th Infantry Division first formed in April 2014, the 69th Special Forces Division also created in April 2014, and the 1st Special Tasks Brigade.
Colonel Youssen Merhi, who commands the 24th Infantry Division, was named the chief of the 46th Infantry Division, which—alongside the Division of Decisiveness—are led by commanders of two of the four major factions listed by Al-Modon’s report.
Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language source material.