The people of Swaida city in southern Syria are experiencing a mix of apprehension and defiance, as the peace that has prevailed their city throughout the long-running Syrian crisis is being threatened as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front from are closing in on from its eastern and western flanks.
The general opinion in the predominantly Druze city of Swaida backs the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as it’s the case with all of the minority groups in Syria, which fear the Sunni-led militants, who showed no tolerance to moderate Sunni people in Syria, let alone the minorities.
Still, and until recently, the Druze community in Swaida seemed to have favored to shun itself from the violence that has engulfed other Syrian cities, by showing no direct or public enmity to any of the fighting groups in the hope to save the Druze minority from the bloodletting that stained all components of the Syrian society.
The landscape there has dramatically changed recently.
The Nusra Front and its allied militants have captured key towns and a military base in the nearby province of Daraa, posing a direct threat to the town of Thaaleh, just 10 km west of Swaida.
The IS also inched closer to that city after capturing towns in east of Swaida, namely the towns of Qaser and al-Saed, which are less than two km from the town of Haqef in the eastern countryside of Swaida.
NUSRA FRONT ATTACK ON THAALEH
After capturing the Brigade 52 base in Daraa last week, the IS militants eyed the Thaaleh airbase, which constitutes the first defense line for the western gate of Swaida.
Two major offensives were launched on the airbase and town, promoting the residents in Thaaleh and inside Swaida to feel the heat of the Syrian conflict, something they have never felt before.
The attacks were foiled by the Syrian army in cooperation with volunteers from Swaida, but the militants in the nearby towns of Daraa don’t seem that they will let go of their plan to capture the airbase.
Their latest attack took place Monday, when they attempted to storm the airbase in droves, before the Syrian air force struck them heavily, halting their attack and killing 100 people of them.
Still, a mixed feeling of apprehension and defiance eclipsed the public mood in Thaaleh.
“The situation in Thaaleh is still unstable. Our home is so close to the airbase and we, the women, chose to temporarily move inside Swaida until the situation in the town calms down,” Samiha, a woman from Thaaleh, told Xinhua reporters.
She said most of the town’s women opted to leave to give the men a better chance in taking part in defending the town, without being burdened or preoccupied with protecting the women.
She, however, noted that the women come to visit their husbands on daily basis to look after them for a short period of time.
“All of the men of Thaaleh are still there to partake in defending the town alongside the Syrian army,” she added.
Although the situation is new to them and “unstable,” Samiha said they would rather fight till the last drop of their blood to keep the jihadi groups out of their town and away from Swaida.
The 20-year-old Esam also voiced Samiha’s feelings.
“We are not afraid of anyone and all of the men of Sweida will fight to keep the terrorists out of their areas and we will not leave our land even if the whole world collapsed, he said.
Holding a Kalashnikov gun, the 60-year-old Hamed told Xinhua he is ready to fight alongside the Syrian army to protect Thaaleh.
IS ATTACK ON AL-HAQEF TOWN
Last month, the IS militants snuck from the town of Al-Qasr and encircled Al-Haqef, a town only 1.5 km from Al-Qasr and 45 km east of central Swaida.
Using assorted weaponry, the IS managed to infiltrate the town under the cover of darkness and took the town’s 600 inhabitants by surprise.
With light rifles and a few hand grenades, the town people showed unprecedented bravery in defending their town, which, they said, is the first defense line to other eastern Druze-dominated towns all the way to Swaida.
“They snuck on us and attacked us from four directions but thanks to God, we repelled their attack,” an armed man from Al-Haqef told Xinhua, standing on an observatory tower and pointing to the location of the IS, just 1.5 km away in Al-Qasr.
He said the IS militants remained in control of the town for five hours, during which the locals did their best and fought ferociously with everything they had to push the IS away.
He added that a Syrian warplane later struck the road between the two towns to prevent the IS from calling in backups, which caused the IS militants to withdraw eventually.
“We are monitoring the road day and night in anticipation of any possible attack by the IS,” the armed man said.
Ziad al-Samman had lost his son and cousin during the IS attack. He said his son, Tamer, who was a university freshman and a member of the local defense forces, kept shooting until his rifle ran out of bullets.
He said the confrontation was extremely difficult as the IS had big weapons while the town’s locals had only light shotguns.
Abu Naim, another man from Al-Haqef, told Xinhua that “tension is still present but we cannot surrender… surrendering has no place in our minds.”
As it was the case in Thaaleh, most of the Al-Haqef women were taken to safe areas in Swaida or nearby towns, following last month’s attack, in an apparent anticipation of another attack by the IS.
Those who are observing the road between both towns said the IS militants in Al-Qasr remained indoors in the morning and started moving under darkness.
Aside from being the heartland of Druze, Swaida is of special importance, as it’s only 110 km from the capital Damascus, and the radical threats there is also an added threat to the capital. Enditem