Sweida bombing shows jihadis remain a threat to Syria
The attack, the first major Isis strike in Syria, targeted country’s Druze community
Damages after a suicide bomb attack in Sweida. Photograph: Sana/Handout via Reuters
Islamic State attacks on Wednesday on the south-western city of Sweida and nearby villages demonstrated the jihadists remain a serious a threat to Syria as well as Iraq following the fall of their cross-border “caliphate”.
In recent months the terror group, also known as Isis, has carried out numerous bombings in Iraq but not in Syria. This was the first major Isis strike there, and more can be expected since its fighters have gone underground.
The co-ordinated bombings coincided with the Syrian army’s offensive against the terror group’s last bastion in the Yarmouk river basin at the southern edge of the UN-monitored Golan disengagement zone.
The attacks targeted Syria’s 800,000-strong Druze community, which is concentrated in Sweida province, particularly in Jabal Druze, the rugged Druze mountains. Last month, the al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham fired mortars into the Sweida countryside, causing material damage while the group was under heavy attack by the Syrian army and Russian war planes.
During the early days of the Syrian conflict, a small number of Druze supported the opposition while the majority criticised but backed the government. Since the monotheistic Druze are considered heretics by Islamic State and al-Qaeda, the community swung firmly behind the Syrian regime after the jihadi influx into the country from Iraq.
During the war, the route between Damascus and Sweida has remained open and government services have been maintained in the province.
Druze youths have joined the Syrian army or formed self-defence units that have co-operated with the army in defending Druze areas and mounting operations against insurgents and jihadis. Druze, 3 per cent of the population, in common with Christians, Alawites, and Kurds, each about 10 per cent, have backed the secular government as their only means of survival as radical Arab fundamentalism rose in Syria and Iraq.
After Israel’s 1967 conquest of Syria’s Golan Heights, the Syrian Druze have retained close ties to fellow Druze living there, the majority of whom are still Syrian citizens.
By mounting attacks in southern Syria, Islamic State seeks to sustain a climate of insecurity and prevent Damascus from attaining its objective of restoring “normality” in the region, now 90 per cent under its control, by reinstating the administration and order.
“Normality” is important as Syria and its Russian ally have called upon Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon to return home. The opening, scheduled for August 1st, of the Nassib border crossing between Syria and Jordan will facilitate this process. Hundreds of Syrians have left Lebanon to go back to hometowns and villages in Syria.