Syrian Rebels Make Advances Along Jordanian Border

Armed Syrian rebel groups have seized control of a customs crossing along the Jordanian border as violent clashes continue in northern Syria.

al-monitor Free Syrian Army fighters fire their weapons as they take cover during clashes with what activists say are government forces, in the village of Aziza, in the southern countryside of Aleppo, Sept. 25, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Hamid Khatib.

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Sep 26, 2013

Activists said that on Sept. 25 the Syrian opposition seized most of the Daraa customs crossing near the Syrian-Jordanian border, at a time when clashes erupted close to Aleppo. The latter represented an attempt by the opposition to “isolate” the forces of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime inside the city and cut the supply lines of important regime military sites in the north of the country.

Field commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in southern Syria have stated that they now control sensitive and strategic locations parallel to the highway that connects Damascus with Amman following violent overnight clashes [on Sept. 24-25]. They also claimed to control large portions of land near the western region that overlooks the crossing, in addition to a huge building that troops of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate were entrenched in, adding that dozens of government troops were killed in the fighting.

Concurrent with the storming of the crossing, considered the second most important crossing between Jordan and Syria after Jaber Nasib, militant factions attacked Haggana Brigade positions and the al-Manshiya border neighborhood, overtaking them both. Bashar al-Zohbi, the FSA’s Yarmouk Brigade commander, told Al-Hayat yesterday [Sept. 25], “We now control approximately 70% of the crossing that separates Syria from Jordan, and we expect to be in complete control of it within the coming hours.”

The Ramtha-Daraa crossing is located just a few kilometers from the Nasib crossing, itself adjacent to the Jordanian town of Mafraq. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade between Gulf states, Turkey and Europe used to pass through the Ramtha-Daraa crossing before the Syrian revolution began more than two years ago.

The importance of Syria’s southern border crossings with Jordan has increased as the pressure on the Syrian capital intensified, and President Assad’s forces resorted to violent counter-strikes. Another military commander affiliated with the opposition told Al-Hayat that yesterday’s gains and the control of most of the old customs crossing “afforded the opposition added strength and helped the FSA launch intense attacks against key positions of the regime army.” He added that fighters of Islamic brigades — such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis (Protectors of Jerusalem) — “played an essential role in the storming of the crossing through coordinated efforts with the south Syria command center that is controlled by factions affiliated with the FSA.”

Zohbi denied that the opposition military council, headquartered in Daraa and led by Ahmad Fahd al-Nehme, played any role in the takeover of the crossing. He said, “The council had nothing to do with this plan.” He also pointed out that the dispute with the military council and Jordanian-backed Nehme had intensified regarding many a battlefield issue that he did not mention.

It was not possible to obtain a comment from Nehme, who spends most of his time in Amman. A Jordanian army source did say though that Jordan “has bolstered security and deployed added troops to the border conflict zones.” Furthermore, witnesses living in Jordanian border villages stated that the Jordanian authorities had completely closed off the area surrounding the crossing and barred anyone from approaching it.

The Jordanian government refused to officially comment on the Syrian opposition’s efforts to control the crossing. A prominent Jordanian minister did tell Al-Hayat that Amman “was closely monitoring the developing military operation near its border, but that it would not acknowledge the control of extremist factions over any border post connecting it with Damascus.”

The intensification of fighting inside Syria had led to an unprecedented influx of refugees through the 370 kilometer border with Jordan.

Additionally, in northern Syria, violent clashes erupted between regime forces and militants in the area along the road connecting military defense factories and Aleppo International Airport on the southern outskirts of the city, where a government tank was reportedly destroyed and four opposition militants killed. Opposition sources further said that 10 regime soldiers were killed when the FSA attacked the village of Aziza with the aim of controlling it.

The opposition’s advance came as part of the “Galloping Horses” operation that opposition factions launched to cut the supply lines of regime troops in Aleppo.

In the central part of the country, five members of the same family, among them two children, were summarily executed by soldiers loyal to the regime. In this regard, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added, “They were killed and their bodies burned in the village of al-Abweid as they fled from the town of al-Riha in the countryside east of Hama.”

Furthermore, warplanes launched two raids on the perimeter of Abu al-Douhour military airport in Idlib’s countryside in northwestern Syria, which has been besieged by militant forces for almost a year. The bombardment also reached various areas of Idlib’s countryside.

In the northeastern part of the country, fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) seized control of the village of Hmeid on the northwestern outskirts of the city of Ras al-Ain, close to the village of Dardara, after violent clashes with militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra. This village is the fourth to fall under the control of Kurdish fighters following the incursion of extremist Islamists into areas of the border region with Turkey.

In Damascus, areas of the Yarmouk [Palestinian] refugee camp were subjected to shelling by government forces that targeted it with surface to surface missiles, at a time when the Jobar neighborhood, east of the capital, was also bombed, as clashes continued to rage along the edges of the Barzeh neighborhood in the north of the city.

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