Civilians And Local Militia Resist ISIS Attacks In Southwestern Syria

Islamic State (ISIS) militants coordinated suicide bombings along with multiple shootings in Sweida and other villages and towns in south-western Syria. The attack occurred on July 25, and both civilians and local militia took up arms to defend the region. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 252 deaths, 135 of which were reported to be civilians. They also reported at least 150 people were injured and 18 abducted. Mass funerals were held for the victims the following day. Private property and public infrastructure was destroyed, produce stands scattered across the road, cars were demolished, and some buildings were turned to rubble. Photos on social media suggest that several ISIS militants were captured and hanged in public spaces.

Sweida is a generally peaceful government controlled city, but it has not been immune from the costs of the ongoing war. The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees estimates that Sweida hosts 63,000 internally displaced people. However, these attacks are a reminder of the lingering ISIS threat in the region. Wednesday’s attacks are the deadliest blows that the province has endured since the war began in 2011.

A Guardian report speculates that the attacks could be a retaliation for the government’s ongoing offensive in neighbouring Daraa. Bashar al-Assad’s regime responded to the Sweida attacks by launching another offensive against ISIS in the northeast of the province. According to Al-Masdar News, the Syrian government is also currently working to free 14 Druze women who were taken hostage during the attacks.

There is mounting criticism that the government did not adequately respond to the attacks in Sweida, leaving civilians and the local militia to defend themselves. This criticism is widespread on social media and likely being exacerbated by the content being shared. Many civilians are sharing photos and videos of themselves wielding guns. There is a particularly shocking post about a 72-year-old woman who was supposedly shot in the stomach by militants while defending her four grandchildren with an AK-47.

Walid Jumblatt, a prominent Druze political leader in Lebanon, shares this sentiment. He argues that the government did not do enough to prevent the attacks in Sweida.“No one can tell me that the squadrons of many American, Russian and foreign planes did not see this gathering which suddenly took the regime by surprise…,” Jumblatt told Reuters. In the same interview, he suggests that the government wants to “sacrifice the youths” of the region. If these allegations of negligence are confirmed, it will be difficult for the Assad regime to make amends with Sweida’s people.

These criticisms seem to be rooted in Sweida’s large Druze community and their antagonistic relationship with Assad’s government. In 2015, The Washington Post reported that the Druze community began dodging compulsory military service. According to the article, the Druze community initially supported Assad’s government out of fear that conditions for minorities would be worse if it was overthrown. However, as the war progressed they began to question the government’s ability to protect them.

Unfortunately, it seems that they may have been correct. These reactions illustrate the lack of accountability for civilian casualties, and the importance of resolving minority issues in the ongoing war. Although accurate reporting has been difficult to come by from Syria, it is imperative for the media to investigate this tragedy further so that it can be determined who should be held accountable. This is the first step to healing in this region and preventing further attacks. Without addressing these issues, it seems likely that these attacks will contribute to increasing sectarianism and conflict in an already profoundly divided country.