By Gabrielle Hunt
Three weeks after the forced evacuation and fall of Daraya, Syria, the short-term and long-term implications of a shift in power are already apparent. The city’s surrender came after two months of the heaviest bombing since it was taken by opposition forces in 2012, according to Reuters.
Daraya, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and previously a longstanding rebel stronghold, was captured by the Syrian Army on August 25, a move that The Independent called “decisive” in President Bashar al-Assad’s struggle for the capital. The siege of Daraya followed years of similar counterinsurgency tactics by the Syrian government. Assad’s latest counterinsurgency method — a strategy that forces civilians to either evacuate or endure relentless bombing until areas are rendered uninhabitable and deprived of food — proved to be especially effective in Daraya’s fall. Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, believes that this surrender has set a dangerous precedent for Assad’s future strategies of regaining territorial control.
One of the most immediate implications felt from Daraya’s fall is that it has heightened Assad’s confidence that the Syrian government can successfully regain all rebel-controlled land, as the capture of Daraya will likely have a domino effect. Daraya’s siege has upset the opposition effort, while “encouraging the army to believe it was in reach of subduing rebel bastions,” according to Reuters.
Another implication is that the fall has led to the Syrian army placing placing new pressure on a neighboring rebel stronghold, Mouadamiya, where the government has given the rebels an ultimatum of evacuating or facing military assault. Surrendering is a particularly unappealing choice, as many of Mouadamiya’s inhabitants are wanted by the government for their involvement in the uprising. Hundreds of civilians, however, have already begun to evacuate the city, including many who had been originally displaced from Daraya.
A long-term challenge that both the government and civilians will face is the defense of Damascus and its heavily populated surrounding areas. Though this area is where the army’s best forces lie, the insurgents in some of the area’s towns and farms control a large, contiguous area, which has prevented further military campaigns by Syrian government forces for the time being.
A second long-term problem that emerged from Assad’s policies is that these methods will potentially contribute to the increasing difficulty Syria will face in one day recovering from the civil war.
Riyad Hijab, head of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, believes that President Assad’s “truces are paving the way for ethnic and political cleansing on an unprecedented scale.” Syria’s opposition fighters are primarily Sunni Muslims, and their forced evacuation from Daraya and other areas will potentially fuel sectarian conflict, as Assad is more aligned with Shiite Muslims.
The United Nations has criticized and condemned Assad’s strategy of forced evacuation, but it is unclear whether the intergovernmental organization will act. The politics of food in Syria continues to be little understood by outsiders, making mediating starvation tactics difficult. U.N. relief agencies have found their work complicated by distorted messages and propaganda from both the government and the opposition.
The U.N. has also proven to be particularly ineffective in dealing with the greater Syrian civil war, as seen when warring parties brushed off the February 2014 Security Council resolution condemning the starvation of civilians. According to the Carnegie Middle East Center, it is likely that future condemnations from the U.N. will hold little clout in the conflict and that the displacement of civilians will be permanent.