De-escalation zones may include Homs in Syria

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The Russian announcement of the de-escalation zones in Syria is moving at an accelerating pace, with the statement about two new areas in two weeks.

Moscow announced de-escalation zones in the southwest of Syria, including the provinces of Suwayda, Daraa and Quneitra by the ninth of this month.

Before the details of the agreement of the declared de-escalation zones were revealed, the Russians hastened to declare the eastern Ghouta of Damascus as a de-escalation zone, on the 22nd of this month.

On the 19th of July, the Russian Foreign Minister said that there is a possibility of announcing a new truce in Syria that includes Homs, Ghouta and probably al Sharqiya as he put it. However, 3 days after this statement, Moscow announced a new de-escalation zone, including Eastern Ghouta, without the province of Homs.

Homs is a difficult city to include in the de-escalation zones. First because of its size which amounts to one-quarter of Syria’s territory, secondly because it is located on the borders of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, thirdly, because it is in the center of Damascus, Deir al-Zour, Raqqa, Hama and Tartous. Furthermore, because of Iran’s intensive military presence in that province since it is a key link between Deir al-Zour which is adjacent to Iraq and the Qusayr region adjacent to the Lebanese border.

Homs has a heavy presence of Iranian militias that are distributed in many of its regions and take it as a headquarter to their forces which are distributed according to an Iranian perspective aspiring to connect Tehran’s line of influence to Iraq and then Syria and Lebanon.

Iran and ISIS exploited Homs for the same reason; the two entities recognize the strategic importance of Homs in extending their influence to Lebanon through Syria and Iraq.

After the withdrawal of the Iranian militias, led by the Lebanese Hezbollah, from the de-escalation zones in south-west of Syria, the militias shifted towards the area linking Homs to Lebanon.

Damaged buildings and rubble line a street in Homs, Syria, Sept. 19, 2016. (ap)
Damaged buildings and rubble line a street in Homs, Syria, Sept. 19, 2016. (ap)

On the 19th of July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the possibility of agreeing on a new de-escalation zone that could include the eastern Ghouta and Homs which will be announced mid-next month. However, only the eastern Ghouta was declared a de- escalation zone. Meanwhile, the Hezbollah militias are in the midst of a battle in the town of Arsal which prompted various political analysts to stress that there is a link between the battle of Arsal and the declaration of the eastern Ghouta as a de-escalation zone.

Iranian militias, such as Al Nujaba, al-Badal, Haidarion, al-Baqir Brigade, and the Imam Ali Brigades, as well as a partial presence of the regime’s army, are deployed in Jabal al-Mukhul, the Heal and Bedouin areas.

The city is equally important for all the parties of the Syrian crisis. Homs is a natural extension of the areas of the de-escalation zones in the eastern Ghouta of Damascus because it is adjacent to Damascus and its countryside.

Homs is dubbed “the capital of the revolution” by Syrian activists because of the size of the great popular movement that broke out against the Assad regime is the place where the influences of the international powers reveal itself.

It is the main playground of the Iranian militias, the Russian forces, ISIS militants and the regime forces who are progressing in the south and east. Homs which is nearly a quarter of Syria’s territory appears to be inaccessible to the monitoring mechanisms proposed by Russia.

According to experts, the possibility of introducing Homs as a de-escalation zone will clash with many obstacles such as the deep Iranian presences in its borders, especially if Russia were to offer some areas of the Homs borders with Lebanon as a trophy prize to Iran after expelling it from southwestern Syria.

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