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ISIS eyed on southern Syria as 'Caliphate' territories shrink in the north

By Ali Eid; Translation by Yusra Ahmed

(Zaman Al Wasl)- Indirect battle between the Islamic State and the free Syrian Army (FSA) has broken out in Southern Syria front, Horan and Daraa. It cannot be called a traditional battle for both side, as the exact manpower, the strength and goals of Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade (Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk) and The Islamic Muthanna Movement (Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya), the two armed formations which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The two formations worked in favour of the Islamic State in Southern Syria by series of assassinations in an attempt to threaten the local community and make controlling the area easier.

The first position of Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk and Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya in Yarmouk vally, next to Israel before spreading to the Western and Eastern countryside of Daraa then Quneitra raise big question mark.

The “Islamic State in Horan” has started when “Yarmouk martyrs Brigade had pledged allegiance to ISIS then Harakat The Islamic Muthanna Movement followed. Additional information indicates that many sleeper-cells of these two formations exist inside many other formations. By adding the Army of Jihad (Jaish al-Jihad) in Quneitra that also pledged allegiance to ISIS, a new threat of the Islamic State’s expansion in Horan is anticipated.

Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, the strike force and the first armed formation to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) was formed in mid 2012 by Muhammed Saad-Eddin al-Baridi, nicknamed “al-Khal”, who was killed in a bomb blast in Jamla village with other five leaders on November 15, 2015.

Al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for the attack. Abo Hamza al-Qurrashi, Sharea responsible was killed in the same bomb blast.

AL-Khal was replaced by Qahtan Ya’rub al-Haj Dawud, Palestinian-Jordanian national, known to be Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade mastermind and the effective leader.

On March 6, 2016, significant changes took place in the formation of Yarmouk Martyrs part of them was appointing Abu Abdullah al-Madani, Saudi national, was appointed as a leader and the Emir of Yarmouk Basin.

An expert officer in the Free Syrian Army talked in condition f anonymity has estimated the manpower of Yarmouk Martyrs about 700 members, while the Israeli and American estimate ranged between 1000 and 1500 members.

The officer reported that the brigade has big amount of heavy weapon reach to 150 pieces including machine guns, cannons, tanks, anti-tank, anti aircrafts, and armored vehicles.

Yarmouk martyrs brigade was founded with 100 members only in 2012, it had come to light after abducting 21 members of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) of Filipino nationality in the beginning of March 2013, and free them on March 10.

The defected officer confirmed that al-Khal was supported by the High Military Council of the Southern region in the beginning and was in connection with other battalions supporting to the Free Syrian Army before transforming into the extreme trend and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, which was confirmed by getting supported by Sharea figures from the North region of Syria controlled by ISIS and the video tape showing him singing to the Islamic State, which resulted in an open battle with Nusra Front in 2014.

Yarmouk martyrs has revealed its connection to ISIS when it rejected recognition of Dar al-Adel “the house of Justice”, the main legal referance which is recognised by all the formations on ground as well as the regional powers.

Investigation with arrested members of the brigade confirmed that it has pledged allegiance to ISIS, and revealed many assassination operation against members work in civil and relief field.

Nabegh Soror, journalist and interested in affairs of Southern region confirmed that ISIS via Yarmouk Martyrs was trying to weaken the local entity in order to facilitate controlling the area as the brigade killed many prominent figures in the region. Muhammed Hashish, responsible for aid and relief in Western countryside was one of the confirmed assassination committed by Yarmouk brigade.

Two sources interested in development of Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade anticipate a hidden collusion by Israel by leaving it expanding to the West under supervision of the Israeli army and intelligence. An officer of the coordination room in Southern front explained that Israel has been working on strengthening the brigade with a possibility of indirect support, aiming to draw attention that Southern Syria has become a base for extremists to justify a military action when time become suitable.

Fuad al-Amyan, former coordinator of Mutaz brigade thinks that Israel waits for a particular moment to attack on the Southern region at 10 kilometres depth toward Tasil city in the North-Western countryside controlled by Yarmouk martyrs brigade since the mid of this month March.

On January 26 this year, the American journalist David Ignatius wrote in Washington Post journal the opinion of a senior Israeli military official who said that instead of attacking the Islamic State at Israel’s borders, it pursues a policy of deterrence, containment and even quiet liaison. That opinion strengthen the point of views of the two sources.

The Islamic Muthanna Movement (Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya) was founded by Ahmed Kassab al-Masalmeh, dubbed Abu Mohamed Harasta. In his early youth he joined the fighting vanguard, the armed wing of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, he moved to Iraq after the eighties' troubles then moved to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. He was assassinated in November 2014 by an operation attributed to Nusra Front.

The first leader of the movement was Aamer Masalmeh, dubbed Abu Ayoub. Was killed in 2013. His brother Naji, dubbed Abu Ayob as well followed him as a leader.

Nabegh Soror detailed that first support for the movement were figures of Muslim Brotherhood within Horan’s people association. He confirmed that the movement had received financial support from a member introduced himself as an intelligence figure in one of the Gulf country, to appear later that he was not a member of any governmental institution.

After a series of penetration and lack of fund, Muslim Brotherhoods lost their control n the movement.

The estimate of the manpower of the movement around 200 members, it has 50 heavy weapons, including machine guns, tanks, anti-tank, cannons and armored vehicles. The main Areas of deployment are The Old City of Daraa, Sidon, Kahil and scattered cells in the eastern and western countryside.

The Islamic Muthanna Movement has disagreement among its members in regard to joining Yarmouk martyrs brigade or staying as a separate body.

The movement wanted to benefit from the heavy weapon of the brigade, while the later wanted to use the position and spreading of the movement in Eastern and Western countryside, as well as the city of Daraa. Suspicion of connection between ISIS and The Islamic Muthanna Movement were strengthened when the Leade Naji Masalmah refused to fight ISIS’s fighters and rejected joining al-Fateh army because of its conflict with the Islamic State.

Assassination of Osama al-Yatim, the Head of the Justice House in December 14, 2015 was one of te most important operation of the movement beside kidnapping Yaqub al-Ammar, the head of Daraa council, who was freed by an operation of the Free Syrian Army.

It is clear that the extremiists try to invade the south region gradually, but the free Syrian Army tried to stop that expansion with the help al-Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front that started its conflict with ISIS’s supporters in the south by orders from its leader, Abo Maria al-Kahtani, who moved to the north for unexplained reasons.

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