::: Levant Research Institute :::

Jordan to set up buffer zone in southern Syria

June 29
23:43 2015

Jordan is preparing to set up a security zone in southern Syria to prevent a jihadi victory in the area, carving out the first humanitarian “buffer zone” for rebels and refugees in four years of civil war.

The main aim of the operation will be to create a safe area on Jordan’s border, stretching across the southern Syrian provinces of Deraa and Suwayda, and including the city of Deraa, where the Syrian uprising began in 2011, according to people familiar with the plans.

 

Though the idea of creating a buffer area has long been circulating among Syria’s neighbours, until now it has received little serious attention.

But Jordan’s hand is being forced by the shifting military situation inside Syria, and concerns that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis, could grab territory on its border and threaten the Hashemite state. Jordan has also been involved in the US training of non-jihadi rebels, which it and western governments see as the only moderate alternative to the jihadis.

Diplomats say Amman and its international allies are keen to avoid “another Idlib”, referring to the Assad regime’s withdrawal from the north-western city in March; jihadis soon took advantage of the retreat and established a strong presence there. 

Assad regime forces are currently under pressure in the city of Deraa, and are likely to withdraw in the coming days before the narrow corridor they control, which currently connects the city to Damascus, is cut off.

The fall of the historic city of Palmyra to Isis has also led to a significant rethinking of the anti-Isis coalition’s plans in regard to Syria. Jihadis are now uncomfortably close to the Jordanian border and are using the area as a crossing point into Iraq. The group has been manoeuvring large military convoys through the area, according to intelligence officials. 

people familiar with the situation say that Jordan is also considering a militarised zone that will segregate the buffer area from Syrian regime forces to the North. It will be manned by existing fighters in the anti-Assad rebel southern brigades, reinforced with a brigade of troops currently being trained in Jordan. The Jordanian military — one of the most capable in the Middle East — will provide support.

The plans are backed by key members of the international coalition against Isis, who are expected to provide behind-the-lines military support and advice but it remains unclear whether Washington will sanction the move: many in the Obama administration are hesitant about backing a ground operation in Syria.

Although an official no-fly zone is unlikely to be established in support of the Jordanian operation, warnings could be sent to the Assad regime that any attempt to strike at the area by air would be met with a response.

It is also unclear how much co-ordination has so far taken place to prepare southern Syria’s existing brigades of rebel fighters for the operation: senior figures in the southern brigades contacted by the FT said they were unaware of the plans. While Jordanian intervention is likely to be welcomed in Deraa, there is also a question over whether forces backed by Amman will be so readily supported in neighbouring Suwayda province, where Druze tribes have an uneasy relationship with anti-Assad forces.

Sam Jones and Roula Khalaf in London and Erika Solomon in Beirut
www.ft.com – 6-2015
 

 

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