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'Settlements Train' Arrives at Hezbollah Stronghold West of Damascus

'Settlements Train' Arrives at Hezbollah Stronghold West of Damascus

Thursday, 24 March, 2022 - 09:30
File photo of destruction after an Israeli raid near Damascus (Reuters)

The ''train of settlements''1A imposed by the Syrian government in the Damascus countryside pulled into the western Qalamun region, an area of influence for the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia in Syria. The settlement process started with Al Tal city amid local bewilderment as Damascus has already struck a deal for controlling the area.

On Tuesday, state news agency SANA reported that the settlement process started in Al Tal and its suburbs in the Damascus Countryside, within the framework of the settlement agreement proposed by the state.

SANA’s reporter said that since morning, the settlement center, which was opened by relevant authorities, witnessed a large turnout by those wishing to settle their status and return to their normal lives.

Administratively, Al Tal belongs to the governorate of Rif Dimashq, which is the center of an area in the western Qalamun. Towns and villages of the western Qalamun region include Minin, Mariba, al-Drej, Bada, Talvita, Halbon, Maaruna, Saydnaya, Maarrat Saydnaya, Rankous, Akobar, Hosh Arab, al-Tawani, Hala and Assal al-Ward.

During the first years of the war, Al-Nusra Front took control over the majority of the western Qalamun towns and villages until the Syrian army, with the support of Hezbollah, launched a military operation there at the beginning of 2016.

The military campaign ended with an agreement to displace the opposition's militants to the north of the country, leaving Damascus and Hezbollah to control the western Qalamun region.

Local sources confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah gunmen are still present in the western Qalamun, especially in areas near the border with Lebanon.

News of a new settlement process in the area has astonished locals who confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the government had already implemented an agreement. Six years ago, opposition factions in the western Qalamun split into two groups. One group joined pro-government forces while the other was deployed to the north of the war-torn country, namely to Idlib.

However, the sources did not rule out the presence of a small number of young men in the region who may have skipped the mandatory army draft. The government may be targeting these people with the new settlement process.

It is noteworthy that “Jusoor for Studies” stated last November in an analytical study that the Syrian authorities signed at least 60 local settlement agreements in more than 25 regions between 2013 and 2018.

Observers monitoring settlements in Syria told Asharq Al-Awsat that Damascus, by imposing “new settlements” in areas that it had previously regained control over, wants to consolidate its control completely over those areas, and looks to impose its vision for a solution away from a political settlement.

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