Politics

Sweida faction blames Russia for recent unrest

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Armed elements of a local faction are seen in the southern province of Sweida, where there has been an uptick in kidnappings and killings. [Photo courtesy of Suwayda ANS]

An armed opposition group in Sweida province, Sheikh al-Karama Forces, says it holds Russia responsible for the lawlessness in southern Syria, where a recent spate of kidnappings and killings has left 15 people dead, a local activist said.

According to Sheikh al-Karama Forces, all those who lost their lives were killed by an armed faction from neighbouring Daraa province that is backed by Russia and is under the direct command of the Russian military police.

The 5th Attack Troop Corps is an all-volunteer force led by Ahmed al-Awda that is fighting as part of the Syrian regime's army. Its fighters are trained, equipped and advised by Russian military personnel.

Sheikh al-Karama Forces is one of the largest local armed groups in Sweida province, Sweida activist Nizar Bou Ali told Diyaruna.

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Local factions in Sweida await the outcome of negotiations between clerics and elders of the region to put an end to the current tensions. [Photo courtesy of Al-Quraya Now]

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Ahmed al-Awda, the commander of the Russia-backed 5th Attack Troop Corps, which has been accused of being behind recent kidnappings and killings in Sweida. [Photo courtesy of Orient News]

"It holds Russia responsible for the continued kidnappings and killings taking place between factions in Sweida and Daraa," he said.

According to Sheikh al-Karama Forces, Bou Ali said, the Russia-backed 5th Attack Troop Corps has been carrying out, and continues to carry out, the killings and kidnappings.

The opposition faction says the 5th Attack Troop Corps is directly responsible for the killing of 15 Sweida residents in fighting that took place a few days ago near the Sweida village of al-Qurayya, he said.

Lawlessness, security vacuum

Sheikh al-Karama Forces said it also holds the Syrian regime responsible for the state of lawlessness and for the security vacuum that has led to rampant looting, robbery, killings and kidnappings for ransom.

Five people from the province have been kidnapped in the past few hours, he said, and it has been confirmed they are currently in Daraa province.

"Syrian regime forces did not move a finger," he noted, "even though three of the abductees are conscripts who were traveling to join their military units in the town of Busra al-Harir, north-west of Daraa".

Bou Ali said there are ongoing efforts by Daraa and Sweida elders to put an end to the tension, stop the lawlessness and keep the situation from exploding.

There are fears the situation could turn into a sectarian conflict, as many Sweida residents are Druze, while most Daraa residents are Sunnis, he said.

Bou Ali said the kidnappings are "a lucrative business for the gangs of Daraa", who demand ransoms of up to 20 million Syrian pounds ($40,000) from the abductees' families.

Videos showing the abductees being beaten and subjected to all kinds of violence, including sexual assault, have been sent to their families, with demands for ransom in exchange for their release, he said.

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