The first batch of rebel fighters and families, consisting of some 1,200 people, have been evacuated from Daraa City, marking the end of Opposition control over what was referred to as the "Cradle of the Revolution".
In what has now become a familiar sight in the Syrian Conflict, around 1,200 people consisting of rebel fighters and their families from Daraa City boarded the buses that will carry them to an uncertain future in the province of Idlib. The evacuation represents the first and, so far, only evacuation to take place in the region that has been known as the “Cradle of the Revolution”.
Despite its credentials as where the Syrian protest movement began, the collapse of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Daraa has been surprisingly rapid. Since launching its Operation Basalt on June the 19th, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has taken over much of the eastern province. Although heavy clashes were reported in towns like Busra al-Harir, much of the rebels have surrendered, preferring to accept a “reconciliation” agreement that would spare them the destruction to the likes of East Ghouta or Aleppo City.
The surrenders have allowed the SAA to besiege the rebel-held districts of Daraa City, initiating a shaky ceasefire and negotiations on July 6th. Subsequently, an evacuation agreement was reached, allowing those who did not wish to sign a reconciliation agreement to leave for Idlib. The agreement effectively allowed the SAA to take control of the rebel-held districts of the city with minimal conflict, after having repeatedly failed to impose control through military means over the course of 2017.
Notably, the number of evacuees so far has been lower compared to those seen elsewhere. Many observers speculate that the lack of intense fighting and widespread destruction have contributed to the willingness of the rebels to reach a deal that would allow them to stay in their hometowns rather than endure displacement in Idlib. This was also cited for the return of large numbers of people who were initially displaced to the Jordanian Border. However, a number of reports from FSA commanders suggest that the negotiators sought to discourage the rebels from travelling to Idlib, implying that the region would be the next target of SAA operations.
With much of Daraa Province now under SAA control, the only parts of southern Syria under rebel control are the so-called Triangle of Death in northwestern Daraa and Quneitra Province. Over the course of this week, much of the Triangle was targeted by the SAA which continued to make progress in the region. Meanwhile, rebel-held towns in Quneitra have been shelled heavily despite the region’s close proximity to the Israeli-held Golan Heights.