Iran reportedly forming Syrian Druze militia

Druze militiaman. (Twitter)

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Al-Arabiya cited the opposition Syrian Media Council as revealing that “Iran has formed a new military faction in [the Druze-populated] Jabal al-Arab, under the name ‘Lebayk Ya Salman’ [For you o Salman], in a reference to the companion of the prophet Mohammad, Salman al-Farsi, an important figure for the Druze.”

“Pictures have circulated on social media outlets of militants wearing insignia with the words ‘for you o salman’ written on it,” the pan-Arab station added in its Tuesday report.

“This has been interpreted as a new attempt by Iran to take advantage of Druze sentiment and thrust the [sect] in to battles against rebel battalions.”

Prominent Druze journalist and political commentator Eyad Abu Shakra wrote Sunday that the Iranians were attempting to form the Druze fighting group.

“After the Iranian conspiracy pushed the Shiites of Iraq and Lebanon as well as the Alawites of Syria into sedition under the Ya Hussein slogan, now they are trying to destroy the Druze under the Ya Salman slogan,” the journalist said Sunday on Twitter.

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Hezbollah training

Abu Shakra’s Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Monday that “Hezbollah and Iran have a clear presence in Suweida” where they have come “to train these Druze militias just as Shiite militias were formed previously under the principle of resistance against extremists.”

“Hezbollah has been supporting and funding this formation as well as supervising the training of dozens of the members of these militias,” the Saudi daily cited opposition sources as saying.

The sources said that work on forming the group began in earnest last week when clashes erupted in the Suweida governorate between the Al-Nusra Front and the National Defense Forces, while ISIS was also present in Bir al-Qasab, to the northeast of Suweida.

“In turn, pro-Hezbollah and regime [social] media pages have said this faction’s mission is to liberate east Houran and the Daraa-Damascus highway,” Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported.

The alleged training comes amid the Hezbollah and Iranian-led regime offensive in southern Syria aiming to seize a triangle of territory stretching from the southern outskirts of Damascus down to Quneitra in the southwest and Daraa in the southeast.

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“The road to Damascus does not run through Suweida”

The coalition of rebels fighting in southern Syria reached out to residents of Suweida in light of the insurgent campaign to seize Bosra al-Sham, a town 20 kilometers south of the Druze enclave.

“We will not go back on the promise we made to ourselves first before you: the revolution’s path goes towards Damascus, but it does not pass through Suweida,” the Southern Front’s military press room said in a Monday statement.

The rebel group, which has been fighting against the Iranian and Hezbollah-led military campaign in southern Syria, further explained that recent fighting outside Bosra al-Sham did not threaten regime-controlled Suweida.

“Rebel forces have not and will not seek to enter areas of Suweida [governorate] but the supply lines from the villages of Beka and Dibin [to Bosra al-Sham] had to be cut,” the group said about the clashes aiming to close the regime line into Bosra, which fell to rebels on Wednesday.

Deadly fighting erupted over the weekend between rebels and pro-regime forces near the Druze-populate towns of Dibin, Beka and Barad, which are located southeast of the rebel target of Bosra al-Sham.

Alaraby Aljadeed reported Wednesday that at the beginning of their Bosra campaign, rebels attacked “a regime checkpoint […] at a three-way junction leading to the three Druze-majority villages.”

The London-based daily added that regime forces and NDF militia members hailing from the Suweida governorate were killed in the fighting.

“After the attack […] the regime began spreading rumors through its supporters in the area, [claiming] that Daraa residents wanted to storm Suweida. It also instructed them to inform on supporters of the revolution in the area and voices calling for armament were raised.”

The Southern Front echoed the report, saying in its statement that “the clashes that ensued were no more than a reaction to some people who tried to stir up trouble.”

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Daraa-Suweida reassurances

Amid the heightened tension in southern Syria, residents of the neighboring Daraa and Suweida governorates issued statements pledging to avoid sectarianism.

Dozens of personalities from Daraa called for “the renunciation of sedition and awareness of the attempts by the regime to thrust Suweida residents into a confrontation with Daraa residents, after the fighting that has broken out between [rebels] and regime forces supported by sectarian militias in the city of Bosra al-Sham.”

“The people of Daraa wish to deliver a message to their neighbors, the residents of Jabal al-Arab [the Druze], alerting them to the danger posed by the regime using Suweida youth as fuel for Iran’s project.”

Suweida residents responded with their own statement in which they accused the regime and its allies of “thrusting the sons of Suweida residents into a confrontation with their brothers in Daraa—something which wise Suweida [residents] and their free sons and daughters do not accept whatsoever.”

“While there may be some deluded residents in the governorate who the regime has tricked into joining it in the NDF, outside the borders of Suweida, they most certainly do not represent the orientation of the governorate’s residents.”

Meanwhile, Alaraby Aljadeed reported that a leading Suweida Druze elder sheikh also warned against sectarian strife between the two governorates.

An activist from Suweida governorate, who chose not to reveal her name, told the newspaper that Sheikh Waheed Balaous had called for caution.

“The Suweida residents who die in a battle against Daraa resident will die unlamented. Likewise, Daraa residents who die in a battle against Suweida residents will die unlamented.”

Balaous has been known for his neutral stance between the Bashar al-Assad regime and Syrian rebels, however in recent weeks he has taken a more critical tone against the Damascus government.