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Hussein Ali Alzoubi
Tadamon neighbourhood massacre video, published by the Guardian, brought the southern Damascus neighbourhoods to the fore. Tadamon is one of these neighbourhoods found on the fringes of southern Damascus.
According to the Real Estate Authority statistics dating back to the years before the war, it contains most of the capital’s slums, which amount to 40 per cent of the city.
These neighbourhoods, including Yarmouk camp, Al-Hajar al-Aswad, Al-Qadam and others, exist due to political conditions. Palestinian refugees, for example, resided in Yarmouk camp, while the same the residents of Al-Hajar al-Aswad were displaced from the Golan.
These neighbourhoods also created certain social and economic conditions. Those from the governorates looking for job opportunities or students found a place they could afford with their humble financial capabilities. The population density also increased with the arrival of some Damascus residents after their homes got crowded due to the increasing number of family members living in inherited homes.
The Southern neighbourhoods and the Revolution
These areas formed a vital incubator for the anti-regime movement. Cities’ fringes are the most marginal to the government’s priorities and constitute poverty belts that can explode at any time. Most of the arrivals to these areas came from governorates that rose against the regime, such as Daraa, Deir al-Zur, Idlib and others.
After the revolutionary movement was militarised, the southern neighbourhoods became the primary concern of the regime for demographic and geographic reasons. These neighbourhoods are the backyards of Damascus, especially the Al-Midan neighbourhood. In military terms, taking control of the nearby Al-Midan means immediate access to the capital’s centre.
These areas formed the soft flank of the regime around Damascus. Its northern and western vicinities are surrounded by mountain ranges, on which the most powerful battalions of the Syrian army are deployed, such as the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armoured Division. The eastern vicinity has an excellent geographical divider separating Damascus centre and Eastern Ghouta’s cities, also covered by military units.
The danger of the southern neighbourhoods is not limited to this issue and not even to the anti-regime population. This area has a friendly depth in three directions; to the west of Darayya and Muadamiyat al-Sham, rebellious areas that are not more than five kilometres away from the Republican Palace. To the east, the same applies to Aqraba, Yalda to Hujaira, and Sayyida Zainab are also areas connected socially and geographically to the southern neighbourhoods and participating in the anti-regime movement.
It is more critical to the south. It reaches the southwestern countryside of Damascus, the northern countryside of Daraa, and the eastern countryside of Al-Qunaitra. This area is called the “triangle of death.”
This depth provided the southern neighbourhoods with human and equipment supply lines. Thus, the area from Darayya in the west to Sayyida Zainab in the east, passing through the southern neighbourhoods, are the striking forces that almost brought down the regime in Damascus before extremist groups preyed on the Syrian scene in conjunction with Iran and its militias entering the war on President Bashar al-Assad’s side.
Military Machine and Starvation Inferno
The regime and its allies realised the importance of this area and unleashed the military machine inferno, especially in Darayya, whose youth started the demonstrations with flowers. It was bombarded with more than 697 rockets, thousands of artillery shells, barrel bombs, ground-to-ground missiles, sea mines and vacuum bombs. The daily bombardment sometimes reached 40 barrel bombs. The United Nations calls Darayya “Syria’s capital of barrel bombs.”
As of April 2016, the regime had destroyed more than 80 per cent of Darayya’s infrastructure and forced 90 per cent of its population to flee (8,000 people out of 250,000 people remained). The regime forces tightened their siege on the town from all its axes in November 2012, after the Free Army took control of all the regime’s military posts on the outskirts of the city until a deal was reached in August 2016. As per the agreement, its fighters left the city, exhausted by the suffocating siege.
Its neighbour, Muadamiyat al-Sham, besieged by the Fourth Armoured Division, the Defence Companies and Air Force Intelligence, had its share of chemical attacks on the dawn of Aug. 21, 2013.
Other neighbourhoods such as Al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk camp (its population in 2002 amounted to about 113,000, from which 600 families remained) and other neighbourhoods, including Tadamon, fell between the jaws of the regime and its militias on one side and extremist organisations such as Al-Nusra and ISIS on the other. Tens of thousands of people fell in a siege that had reached the point of starvation. Perhaps the image is still engraved for the scenes of the people jostling for bread, an image similar to those we see in apocalypse movies.
These areas had their populations displaced, and many massacres have been committed against civilians. At that time, the regime’s checkpoints announced that they would allow the people to leave.
Once they came out and believed that they had been red of the siege, they would be arrested and perhaps killed, similar to what happened in Tadamon, as thousands of them are missing and nothing is known about them.
Perhaps time will bring out more videos that document other massacres that may not be less horrific than the Tadamon massacre, such as the one that was recorded near the Yalda checkpoint when they allowed 1,500 people, most of them women, children and older people, to leave just to disappear, and their news disappeared with them.
The scene of declaring control of Darayya is still present in the memory of many Syrians, as the first to enter was an armed Shiite cleric accompanied by armed men.
The Iraqi Al-Nujaba and Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas militias were strongly present in Darayya and the Sayyida Zainab. These two regions form the borders of the south, east and west, with a distance of approximately 15 kilometres. There, Iran has utilised the presence of the Sayyida Sakina and the Sayyida Zainab shrines to provoke Shiite fighters to come. However, both shrines have existed for hundreds of years and are held dearly by the population.
This matter was nothing more than a pretext to achieve what is more important, bringing about a sectarian demographic change in the region. The displacement rate in all regions exceeded 80 per cent. At the same time, the families of fighters from Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as the Fatimiyoun and Zainabiyoun Brigades, took over the homes of displaced people to the north of Syria. This change took place as a part of establishing what has become known as the “Haram al-Muqamin – The Two Shrines” or the “Southern Suburb of Damascus,” similar to the “Southern Suburb of Beirut,” the stronghold of Hezbollah.
The Death Triangle
The aforementioned Triangle of Death turned into a spearhead to advance the pro-Iranian militias, especially Fatimiyoun, Zainabiyoun and Hezbollah, after 2015 to advance towards the south. This was the aftermath of the Syrian opposition losing its strength in southern Syria, in Daraa and Al-Quneitra, following the massive participation of Russian air forces in the battles there.
Hezbollah’s military presence increased, particularly in barracks adjacent to those of the Syrian army, and even turned to recruiting young men from the area in exchange for a fee, exploiting the deplorable financial conditions of young people or for that segment that was involved in drugs that have spread extensively since the regime and the militias took control of all of southern Syria.
Tadamon and the southern neighbourhoods are not just neighbourhoods that experienced a peaceful revolution that turned into an armed fight in the name of God. With their southern extension, they are entering into a potential confrontation between Iran and Israel. As it controls a crossroads between the three provinces, the Triangle of Death is also close to the occupied Golan, where the Israeli forces are.