The west Deraa countryside area recently saw a clash between some of the regular forces of the Syrian government and a local auxiliary group nominally affiliated with the Syrian army's 4th Division and led by Abu Kinan, who originates from the Yarmouk Basin locality of al-Qusayr. What happened exactly? What are the wider issues at play here? To discuss these matters, I interviewed a member of Abu Kinan's group, though his exact identity remains anonymous for security reasons. This interview was conducted in the early morning hours of 19 March 2020. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Can you clarify to me what happened exactly?
A: Dear brother, what happened is that the regime brought reinforcements to reinforce and establish points at the al-Masakin checkpoint and the houses around it. These reinforcements are of the 5th Division, the 15th Division, the Air Intelligence and the Military Security. When they first arrived to the first point that they wanted to reinforce- that is, Manshara al-Khateeb known there in the area as Manshara Hajar. The leaders and those accompanying them were on a patrol there in the area: as soon as they heard, they headed to the point of their presence in the first point. When the leaders got out of the cars and when they began to speak with the officer present at the point, telling him it is forbidden for them to come here and take a civilian point and seize it under any point as the idea of their return here is rejected. Of course all I have said is taken into account by the regime as it reckons and prepares everything and accounts for all the possibilities to advance to a new point. Immediately the first lieutenant present gave the order to fire upon them. The leader Abu Kinan was wounded and two leaders were martyred with him. Those accompanying and present immediately returned fire and had the leaders evacuated to the nearest hospital. And during this time groups headed immediately and dealt with them [the regime forces] and until now their bodies are present here. And the one who could flee fled towards al-Sheikh Sa'ad.
Q: Do you mean that the regime forces fled to al-Sheikh Sa'ad?
A: Yes. The regime of course as usual was preparing heavy weapons, as I mentioned to you before: it accounts for all the possibilities. The regime immediately responded with bombing with heavy weapons and rocket launchers, and the bombing was on the peripheries of the locality of Taseel, the locality of Masakin Jaleen and the locality of Jaleen. And this bombing resulted in martyrs and wounded, all of them civilians. And praise be to God, they have been repelled and deterred. Matters are fine by the permission of God (Almighty and Exalted is He), and God have mercy on the martyrs and heal the wounded, oh Lord.
Q: Currently what is the situation?
A: Until now the regime as usual after it saw these losses it faced is claiming that the thing that happened and the issue of opening fire on the leaders is an individual issue and that the officer acted in his personal capacity without taking orders. And in these moments it is negotiating only to take the borders present on the point it advanced upon and the negotiations are happening through an intermediary that is the V Corps in Busra al-Sham. We by the permission of God, our affairs are good and we will not permit anyone to degrade our people and trample on our land and honour so long as we are good, even if Abu Rafet or Abu al-Izz [the two auxiliary commanders who were with Abu Kinan and were killed] were martyred, there are 1000 Abu Rafets and 1000 Abu al-Izzes. And even if Abu Kinan were wounded, we are all Abu Kinan.
Q: Can you clarify more the state of Abu Kinan? He is the leader of groups affiliated with the 4th Division? When you say these groups are affiliated with the 4th Division and such, what is the meaning exactly?
A: Abu Kinan- praise be to God- his matters are well: his wounding is light and praise be to God his situation now is stable. Yes, [he is affiliated with] the 4th Division, of course in name with the 4th Division. And it is as you have seen that the regime has no principle: everyone, even if he merely speaks a word in the face of the regime, is in the view of the regime a terrorist.
Q: Yes, so does Abu Kinan receive salaries from the 4th Division? And are you of his group?
A: Brother, Abu Kinan and the leaders who were martyred with him are overseers of the course of the taswiya [regularization of status] process that occurred. Yes, [I am of his group].
Q: So what has the 4th Division promised? For example have they promised that military service is inside Deraa province only? Have they promised salaries? And what are your demands?
A: Whatever the promises or clauses were, there is no intention to meet any demand whatsoever. We have leaders and what our leadership considers, we are ready- dear brother- and the leaders we are with are wise and their decision is correct and if God wills, our Lord, grant them success and protect them.
Q: Yes. Some of the people speak about an uprising or new revolution in the south. What do you think of this talk?
A: The revolution continues, whether one wishes or refuses it. The revolution did not end dear brother so that a new one should begin. The revolution continues.
Q: But what are your most important demands to the regime currently? Is the priority currently to subject the regime to some of the demands like freeing detainees?
A: The first demand is to get out the thousands of detainees (about whose fate every person has forgotten) in the shade of the spread of the coronavirus.
Q: Yes, and also that the regime should leave security in the hands of the local groups?
A: Of course, but it will isolate any area, impose its control by all means and do what it wants, and al-Sanamayn is the nearest example of the intentions of the regime.