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Under-fire FSA rebels tout
new south Syria offensive

An official in the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham organization issued a fiery warning to the Southern Front days ago.

Southern Front fighters. (image via syrian-reporter.net)

BEIRUT – The Free Syrian Army-affiliated Southern Front coalition has announced it will start a “series of battles” in the Daraa province after coming under criticism for perceived lack of action against regime forces in the region.

 

“We in the Southern Front are continuing our revolutionary and military actions at all levels,” the alliance—which receives support from the Amman-based Military Operations Center (MOC)—announced Wednesday.

 

The coalition fired back at growing allegations that it was no longer pressuring regime forces in southern Syria, declaring, “We have not, and we will not [stop], until the liberation of the last inch of the land of our beloved Syria.”

 

“We announce in the meantime the [start] of the series of 'Houran Volcano' battles,” the statement said, in reference to the geographic region stretching through the Daraa province.

 

However, the Southern Front did not specify where it would launch its attacks, or even who it would fight. Factions in the coalition have been engaged in fighting with the ISIS-linked Jaysh Khalid Ibn al-Waleed in the Yarmouk basin near the Golan demarcation line between Syria and Israel.

 

The Southern Front’s statement blasted both the Syrian regime, calling it an “evildoer,” while also slamming ISIS and “the one who supported them,” an implicit reference to Jaysh Khalid Ibn al-Waleed, which was formed in May 2016 and includes the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, a group with ties to ISIS that was recently blacklisted by the US.

 

Five groups signed onto the statement: The Division of Decisiveness and Gathering of Righteousness—both groups formed in April 2016 out of mergers of smaller FSA factions—as well as the First Corps, First Artillery Regiment and the lesser-known Assad Allah al-Ghalib Gathering.

 

Southern Front criticized for “not fighting regime”

 

The Southern Front’s announcement comes amid mounting criticism of the group by opposition figures, especially Islamists, over the coalition’s alleged reluctance to battle regime forces in southern Syria.

 

An official in the powerful Islamist Ahrar al-Sham organization issued a fiery warning to Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebels in southern Syria, saying they were culpable for the regime's recent advances into the besieged western Damascus suburb of Darayya.

"Every drop of blood spilled in Darayya is the responsibility of the leaders of Southern Front factions," Abu Azzam al-Ansari wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

"Either repent and fight today, or the mujahideen of Houran [region of southern Syria] will erupt against [the Southern Front coalition] in order not to share in their sin," he added.

Ansari's comments come a day after pro-Assad forces breached rebel defensive lines in Darayya, sparking fears that the town would fall to the regime.

An official in Liwa Shuhada al-Islam—the largest opposition faction in the besieged Damascus town which has borne the brunt of heavy regime bombardment—told Turkey's Anadolu news that "the incursion, which is backed by [pro-regime] militias, is massive."

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.

Ahrar al-Sham's Ansari continued his diatribe against the Southern Front in a series of subsequent tweets, indirectly accusing the coalition's factions of being "traitors."

"Those who receive support and stop fighting are traitors and collaborators," he said in an implicit reference to the FSA coalition's ties to the Western-backed MOC.

Reports emerged in January 2016 that the MOC ordered the Southern Front to halt its operations against the Syrian regime in the Daraa province in order to focus its fight on ISIS-affiliated groups in the region.

The Southern Front has failed to notch any significant military successes since the early summer of 2015, after which its major offensive on the provincial capital Daraa ground to a halt.

Ahrar al-Sham voiced pessimism over the fate of Darayya, saying that "maybe the day when we can save [the town] has passed," but added that rebels in southern Syria still have a chance to serve the rebel cause.

"The Houran [region of southern Syria] that previously sparked the revolution will be the one that saves it today," he wrote.​

 

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

Southern Front fighters. (image via syrian-reporter.net)

We in the Southern Front are continuing our revolutionary and military actions at all levels