Recent post-conflict settlement deals in the town of Nahteh in the eastern countryside of the Daraa Governorate have coincided with violations of residents’ housing, land, and property rights. Among other incidents, regime forces set two houses on fire and blew up a third after looting residents’ belongings.
The destruction took place under the supervision of an officer from the Air Force Intelligence branch in Daraa, as a group of residents watched. The officer justified the destruction by saying that the owners of the destroyed houses were wanted by the security services and had refused to both hand over their weapons and settle their legal statuses.
Towns and villages across the Daraa Governorate have witnessed a new round of settlement deals following a military escalation by regime forces in September. The escalation nearly caused the collapse of the Russian-sponsored reconciliation agreement for southern Syria, which was reached between regime and opposition forces in mid-2018.
The new settlement process from this year stipulates that those whose names appear on lists issued by the security forces undergo “security status settlement.” Their statuses have been settled formally, including through short interrogations by security officers in Daraa.
The settlement process also required people to hand over a number of personal weapons. That number is predetermined for each area of Daraa undergoing settlements and is subject to security assessments that are probably not built on reliable information regarding the actual distribution of such weapons, according to a correspondent for The Syria Report. In addition, people in any given area covered by the process may pay money in exchange for keeping the weapons in their possessions. People may also pay money for not having the required weapons in the first place. Because of these conditions, the actual goal of weapon handovers may be a means through which security officials gather money, rather than a way to actually seize weapons from people.
In some areas of the Daraa Governorate, residents have been reluctant to hand over their weapons, and some youth have refused to undergo the security settlement process altogether. As a result, regime forces besieged those areas and sometimes bombed them indiscriminately. In one case, in which some young men refused to undergo security settlement, regime forces demolished their homes. This is what happened in the town of Nahteh. Three local families lost their possessions as a result. Two of the families went to live in the homes of their relatives inside Nahteh, while another family fled town in search of a home in a neighbouring village.
Residents told The Syria Report that they felt the home demolitions were an attempt to terrorize them and force those wanted by the security services to surrender their weapons and undergo “security status settlement” after regime forces faced obstacles in carrying out the settlements in some villages in eastern Daraa Governorate. Indeed, the demolitions did result in the acceleration of settlements, as well as the gathering of money and weapons in certain areas of the eastern part of the governorate.
Fears of a repeat of the demolitions in Nahteh prompted residents to reach out to relatives living abroad, in the hopes of gathering money to hand over to regime forces or to buy, and subsequently surrender, the needed weapons. According to a correspondent for The Syria Report, residents of the town of Nawa paid SYP 100 million and handed over 50 automatic rifles, while residents of Jassem paid around SYP 100 million and handed over 165 guns.