Albin Szakola

Quneitra rebels aim to relieve
siege of Darayya

The Furqan Briages aims to force the regime to redeploy troops encircling the besieged Damascus town.

The Furqan Brigades launched the "At Your Service Darayya" campaign on Monday. (Twitter/Furqan Brigades)

BEIRUT – An Islamist rebel faction in Syria’s Quneitra has launched an offensive that aims to force regime troops to redeploy from around a besieged opposition-held Damascus suburb.


The Furqan Brigades announced Monday—the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—that it was beginning a campaign entitled “At Your Service Darayya,” in reference to the town just southwest of the Syrian capital that has suffered under a regime siege since late 2012.


A spokesperson for the fighting force—one of the largest Islamist groups in the Quneitra province that borders Israel—said that the campaign’s goal is not only to relieve pressure on Darayya, but also to seize Tel Kroum , Jaba and Mant al-Hisan, all areas east of the regime-held towns of Baath City and Khan Arnabeh.


In February 2016, rebels pressed an offensive to seize these areas—which constitute the first line of defense to the center of the Quneitra province—however their military efforts quickly ground to a halt.


The Furqan Brigades vowed that it would not halt its operations until the regime lifted its siege on Darayya, while also saying that it seized ground from regime forces, a claim strenuously denied by a pro-Assad militia operating in Quneitra.


“We have informed the parties who contacted us, that we won’t stop our fight if the regime does not halt its barbaric incursion on Darayya,” the group declared


In past months, Syrian regime forces backed by loyalist militias have staged numerous failed military probes into Darayya, which only received its first shipment of humanitarian aid on June 1, 2016.


However, the local opposition council said the aid delivery was not enough, as it contained only medical supplies and not much-needed food for the town of approximately 8,000 people, where fears have risen of a major regime onslaught.


Situated near the Mezzeh Airbase, which lies less than three kilometers to the north, Darayya occupies a a strategically important location. It is also close to the Republican Palace, the Republican Guard's headquarters and the Syrian Army's crack Fourth Armored Division base.


In mid-June 2015, reports emerged that the regime was razing hundreds of homes in the strategic area southwest of Damascus to fortify the capital against a potential attack by armed opposition groups.


Battlefield Balance


The Furqan Brigades claimed initial successes in its offensive, saying it had taken two areas while also forcing regime forces to redeploy its troops toward Quneitra, claims denied by pro-Assad forces.


Hours after the launch of the campaign on Monday, the independent Islamist faction announced on its official Twitter account that it had seized the village of Doha as well as a nearby agricultural area on the foothills of Tel Kroum.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, for its part, reported that the Furqan Brigades had taken the two points amid fighting that left casualties between rebels and pro-regime fighters.


The Furqan Brigades released a video purporting to show the view from Doha after the battle to take the village.



It also publicized a video allegedly showing an anti-tank guided missile hitting a ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” armored anti-aircraft vehicle parked on Tel Kroum.



According to a Furqan Brigades, the battlefield gains prompted the regime to begin a gradual redeployment of its fighters from the Golan Regiment, a part of the National Defense Force militias, from the Darayya fighting front.


The Golan Regiment issued a statement on the offensive, saying that there was not any actual fighting in Quneitra and that the rebels had not made any real gains.


The militia—which includes a large number of Druze fighters—said that Syrian regime forces did not actually have an on-the-ground presence in Doha, which it called a “crossing and infiltration point for the militants.”


“Tel Kroum forms the key line of defense for the towns of Jaba and Khan Arnabeh,” the group said, adding that rebels have not managed to breach the front. 


NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Amin Nasr translated Arabic-language source material.

The Furqan Brigades launched the "At Your Service Darayya" campaign on Monday. (Twitter/Furqan Brigades)

We have informed the parties who contacted us, that we won’t stop our fight if the regime does not halt its barbaric incursion on Darayya.