Today has seen a large scale military escalation in Deraa, with armed locals seizing a number of checkpoints of Syrian government forces in localities across the province and taking a number of government forces personnel as prisoners. Those checkpoints belonged to forces such as the air intelligence and the Syrian army's Fourth Division, which is a key military actor in Deraa. The immediate trigger of this escalation has been military action that Syrian government forces undertook against parts of Deraa al-Balad (the southern half of Deraa city), amid mutual accusations of failure to adhere to agreements that were negotiated between local notables from Deraa al-Balad and the government-affiliated security committee.
To discuss more the current situation, I conducted an interview today with 'Abu al-Majd al-Hawrani', an activist from Deraa. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: We have seen the thuwar [i.e. armed locals] seize a number of military checkpoints in localities in Deraa. What is the aim? Is the aim for example to expel the government entirely from Deraa?
A: The aim brother [in] expelling the government is to prevent it from entering the area of Deraa al-Balad. Currently in the Deraa region all the military personnel are prisoners in the hand of the thuwar, and there are defections in the ranks of the government.
Q: Can we say that the aim is to reduce the military pressure on Deraa al-Balad?
A: Yes, because Hawran [i.e. Deraa] has a principle: any attack on a region is an attack on all of Hawran. But there is deficiency in the medical and military equipment [/material] among the thuwar. Just now I was in Tafas hospital, there are wounded but there are is not sufficient equipment.
Q: Isn't this hospital government-affiliated?
A: Yes, government-affiliated but they do not put equipment in it because they do not control the area. And also people here, the material situation is zero, there is no one supporting the wounded or the poor families.
Q: Yes. Do you fear the possibility of military escalation? That the Syrian army and its allies will launch a wide-ranging military campaign?
A: Now brother there is a meeting haoppening and there has arisen a ceasefire so the meeting can conclude.
Q: I see, via the Russians?
A: Yes, via the Russians and the commander Ahmad al-Awda who is affiliated with the Russians.
Q: Do you expect there will be an agreement or ceasefire?
A: I expect this thing because they cannot enter into this battle because it is a losing one for the government. I mean this battle will cost them a lot in terms of material and military personnel.
Q: But also the same thing for the thuwar, right? Because the other side has artillery, tanks and aircraft.
A: Yes brother but the thuwar are sons of the area and know how to move in the area. God provide deliverance for it, brother.
Q: Most of the people of Deraa prefer a new agreement?
A: Yes, but the agreement should be without the government's entering the area [i.e. Deraa al-Balad].
Q: If the government wants to improve its relations with the people of Deraa, what is the thing required from it?
A: The required thing brother is that it should be forbidden for military personnel of the government to enter the area.
Q: Yes, but there are other grievances the government must address?
A: Yes, but the demands of the people go back to the face that things have not been going right between us and the government in Deraa al-Balad. The government wants to put in place points in Deraa al-Balad and wants to the open the old customs that is between it and Jordan.
Q: In preparation to resume business activity over the borders?
Q: If you could convey a message to the government what will your message be?
A: My message brother is that each person should remain in his place and not try to advance because the battle is a losing one for him by the permission of God.