Iraq News

Maghawir al-Thawra: a bulwark against ISIS in Syria tri-border area

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra fighters train in the tri-border area separating Syria from Jordan and Iraq. [Photo courtesy of Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra's media office]

Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) faction operating in Syria's Badiya (desert) region, has been playing an important role in ensuring the safety of civilians in the tri-border area of Syria, Iraq and Jordan.

The relationship between the two sides is strong owing to the support Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra provides local residents and internally displaced persons (IDPs), in the face of the threat posed by active "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) pockets in the area.

The faction is primarily present in what is known as the 55km deconfliction zone in southeastern Syria, an area with a radius of 55 kilometres around al-Tanf base and the tri-border area.

The informal Syrian refugee camp of al-Rukban is situated within that area.


Children in al-Rukban camp receive school bags from Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra as part of its campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of education in the camp. [Photo courtesy of Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra's media office]

Ongoing operations against ISIS

On July 19th, Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra arrested several ISIS elements in the tri-border area who were attempting to flee Syria, the group announced on their Twitter page.

That brought the number of captured ISIS elements since the beginning of July to 22, the group said.

On May 31st, Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra, backed by the international coalition, seized a massive drug stash worth around $1.4 million during operations against ISIS around al-Tanf base.

"The cache included more than 300,000 pills of Captagon, an illegal drug frequently trafficked and used by ISIS members," the coalition said.

"Civilians recognise that they are being fully protected by Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra and the area is safe thanks to the group's ongoing patrols," Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra spokesman Mohammad Mustafa al-Jarrah told Diyaruna.

The 55km area "has no presence of any ISIS elements or factions affiliated with the group", he said, adding that anyone who tries to infiltrate the area is dealt with on the spot.

Providing key services to residents

Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra's relationship with civilians in the area, both residents and IDPs alike, is "more than excellent", al-Jarrah said.

The Bureau of Civilian Affairs provides aid and assistance to the residents to the best of its ability, he said. It operates the Sham clinic, situated inside al-Rukban camp, which dispenses medicine and provides medical care to camp residents despite its limited resources.

The bureau is also conducting campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of education and of sending children to school.

It has been providing school supplies to students, al-Jarrah said, and has helped build classroom seats for the al-Bayt al-Tadmuri school inside al-Rukban.

Meanwhile, "the bureau ensures an uninterrupted supply of water through the maintenance and drilling of artesian wells, which are also used by shepherds and bedouins during the very hot summer season in the region", he added.

Al-Rukban camp resident Bassem al-Aqaidat attributed the positive relationship between Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra and the locals to the continuous communication between the two sides, with residents providing tips to Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra to help maintain security in the camp.

In turn, Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra provides services that include "ensuring a constant supply of water, which is vital especially in the summer months when the local wells get depleted, in addition to health services, medicine and food aid, all within the army’s modest means", he said.

More is needed

"Al-Rukban camp residents have formed special committees that co-ordinate with Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra to ensure basic needs are met for them," said camp resident Rahif al-Khalidi.

But despite the help provided by Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra, conditions inside the camp and the area surrounding it remain harsh, especially as no aid from local or international organisations reach the camp, he said.

On July 18th, Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra appealed to aid organisations to bring in food and water to the camp to help its residents, notably children, who have been suffering from illnesses "due to contaminated water and lack of food", it said in a tweet.

Children inside the camp have been sending their own appeal for aid to the international community.

In a video posted online in early July, a young girl in al-Rukban sings about the plight of children in the camp and calls on the international community for support.

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May God give you victory, o, heroes of Iraq!