For prior parts in this series:
Generally speaking, southern Syria has slipped into media obscurity since the military campaign and reconciliations that saw the Syrian government reclaim the entire region from the rebels. Some reports that have emerged tend to be polemically charged. Here, I have tried to rectify the gap in knowledge by conducting interviews with people still residing there.
Today's interviewee is a friend in the Yarmouk Basin locality of al-Shajra in west Deraa countryside. The locality used to be controlled by Islamic State-affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed.
The interview has been condensed slightly for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions are in square brackets.
Q: Generally how is the situation? I mean from the realm of public services, electricity etc.
A: The electricity is operating bit by bit. It is being extended.
Q: Grid electricity, right? How many hours a day?
A: It is being extended. It has not yet reached Shajra, but it is proceeding.
Q: Ah. So right now you are relying on generators right?
A: Yes, and on batteries: cars.
Q: And solar power as well, right?
Q: As for the water, from where does it come?
A: Extension, from Ain Dhikr, in order to reach the entire area.
Q: So water does not come from the Yarmouk Valley?
A: Not from the valley. The valley water is not drunk.
Q: Have municipal services returned?
A: Not yet. But they will bring them back.
Q: Generally life is much better than the days of Da'esh [Islamic State]?
A: Much better.
Q: From what angles for example?
A: Many angles. The siege we were under; the lack of food.
Q: Yes. In the days of Da'esh you were under siege by the Free [Army] factions?
A: Siege against Da'esh but the quantities of food for the people were not being brought in. And thus there was an increase in prices. And Da'esh would steal these small quantities of food.
Q: Yes. So only a little food came in.
A: Yes, and there were no fuels or electricity. And they would take the right of water from us. They even had a share in the agriculture for the civilians.
Q: Yes, but in truth did many of the people of al-Shajra join Da'esh?
A: Small numbers joined for money: civilian contracts.
Q: Civilian contracts? Can you clarify these matters?
A: Agriculture for their interest, or transferring water to their bases, or tending to their animals, which they stole from the civilians.
Q: Ah. Logistical matters, you mean.
A: Yes, you can say that.
Q: Yes. There is talk about many arrests right no in al-Shajra on Da'esh accusations. Is this talk true?
A: True, but in small numbers, and after a time they [those arrested] will go out [from prison]. And they are the group of [people] of civilian contracts. The one who had no relations with them, no one comes upon him [to arrest him]. And [there are arrests of] the [Da'esh] security personnel [amniyeen]
Q: So if someone worked with Da'esh in a civilian contract, he will likely go out from prison.
A: Yes, he will go out.
Q: But if he was an amni for example, he will not go out.
A: He will go out, but according to an interrogation with him. If he committed crimes of killing, he will not leave; or if he brought about a crime of killing.
Q: Yes, and if someone pays bribes, it's possible he will go out from prison?
A: If he committed a crime of killing, no. But if an amni or a [civilian] contract, it will quickly hasten his going out.
Q: Mmm. Approximately how many people were arrested?
A: Not exceeding 150 people.
Q: 150 people?
A: A little less.
Q: I see. Of course there were local elections recently. How was the rate of participation in al-Shajra.
A: People don't take the matter seriously.
Q: Which formations are recruiting the youth in al-Shajra? e.g. The 4th Division?
A: Yes, and the V Corps, and the military security [military intelligence].
Q: Are there any people who have joined Hezbollah?
A: In the region among us, no. As for another region, I don't know.
Q: Have you yourself joined a formation?
A: Yes, the 4th [Division]
Q: Has the 4th [Division] promised that service is inside the region only?
A: Yes, and it has fulfilled [it]. And we are serving in the area.
Q: Yes. So right now you are serving in the area only, and taking a salary.
A: Yes, and serving in the area. We have not yet received salaries, but they are promising us that the salaries will soon come in their month [i.e. on the monthly basis].
Q: I see. What is the promised salary in Syrian pounds?
Q: Yes. A monthly salary?
A: Yes, monthly salary.
Q: Can we say that a third [of the youth of al-Shajra] are in the 4th [Division], a third in the V Corps, and a third in the military security?
Q: I see. Are there any clan problems in al-Shajra because of the Da'esh rule?
Q: What problems exactly?
A: Because they [those who face clan problems] received Da'esh, and their killing of sons [of other families].
Q: So for example there is anger against the Ja'ouni family in al-Shajra? And the families of Da'esh people cannot return to al-Shajra?
A: More or less.