Forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime have been preparing for a wide-ranging operation against opposition forces in the southwestern province of Daraa despite strong objections from the U.S.
Opposition sources in Syria told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that Iranian forces as well as Iranian-backed militia groups will also support the operation -- expected to start anytime -- hidden under the guise of withdrawal from the war-torn country.
The Daraa operation will cover an area declared a “safe zone” and a de-escalation zone -- where fighting is supposed to be prohibited -- said the sources.
Opposition sources told Anadolu Agency that regime forces attacked the opposition from east of the province's capital, also called Daraa, late last night.
Assad forces boosted their presence in the area by deploying at least 60 armored vehicles on Monday night.
Moreover, the Republican Guards, National Defense Forces, Tiger Forces, Palestinian Freedom Army, and Jerusalem Brigades were also reportedly deployed in the region, along with the 4th, 7th, 9th, 14th and 15th militia divisions.
Last month Iranian-backed foreign terrorist fighters announced their withdrawal from several frontier and command centers in Syria.
Later it emerged, however, that the withdrawal announcement was due to the sensitivities of Israel and Jordan, and that the Iranian forces were actually concealed within the regime troops.
According to information gathered by Anadolu Agency reporters, the Iranian military or Iran-backed groups and territories deployed under the regime flag in Daraa are as follows:
In the divided Daraa city center, the Imam Hussein Brigades are deployed in the Manshiyya neighborhood, while the Pakistani-origin Zainebiyoun Brigades are in the neighborhood of Sajna and the Besij Brigades in Kashif.
North of Daraa, Lebanese Hezbollah has been deployed in positions across from the opposition-held Zimrin base and Kafr Sham areas. The Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is deployed against the Mashara position.
East of Daraa, the Fatemiyoun Division of Afghan militias and Lebanese Hezbollah are stationed at a military base located near the opposition-held Burshra Al Harir area. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Army along with Lebanese Hezbollah and Asaib Ahlil Hak from Iraq are stationed against the opposition-held Kerak area at Ta’lah air base.
Northeast of Daraa, Iraqi Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Army are stationed at the Izra oil depots, while Lebanese Hezbollah and Fatemiyoun were deployed within the 49th Battalion on the road to the city of Alma.
Warnings from Washington
Under the Astana, Kazakhstan agreements, in May 2017 Daraa was declared a de-escalation zone, and two months later, a new agreement reached by the U.S. and Russian governments declared it a kind of safe zone.
The U.S. and Britain, in cooperation with the Jordanian army, cut their support for the opposition along the border almost immediately after the agreement with Russia.
Washington has warned the Assad regime against mounting an operation in Daraa. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on May 27 said they were watching the preparations for an attack with deep concern.
On June 14 she repeated this warning, saying: "The U.S. will take necessary measures if the regime violates the cease-fire in the region."
There are two main basins under opposition control in the province of Daraa, connected to each other by a narrow corridor along the border with Jordan.
The city center is also divided between the Assad regime in the north and Free Syrian Army forces in the south.
Reporting by Levent Tok, Mohamad Misto and Selen Temizer:Writing by Sorwar Alam