Deir Dama Village in Suweida: Why Won’t Residents Return?

Residents of Deir Dama, a village in rural north-western Suweida, have been displaced from their homes since 2014. Despite massive destruction wrought on the village by military confrontations, their failure to return is also linked to local conflicts between Druze and Bedouins who live in the area.

The governor of Suweida visited Deir Dama in August 2020, accompanied by the directors of the state’s electricity and water utilities and members of the governorate’s Executive Office, to tour the devastated village, which is still empty of residents.

The governor promised to try allocating a budget sufficient to reconstruct the village and its infrastructure, and asked residents to return to Deir Dama in its current condition, promising to supply drinking water from neighbouring villages after people start returning.

Deir Dama is a small village located on the outskirts of the rocky Al-Lajat desert area separating Suweida from the neighbouring Daraa governorate. Before 2011, its population was estimated at around 500 people. The village was occupied in 2014 by groups of Bedouins loyal to the hard-line Islamist group Jabhat Al-Nusra. The attack resulted in the deaths of six village residents, including children, and the kidnapping of seven others whose fates remain unknown. The attack displaced the entire population of the village.

Residents and local Druze factions supported by regime artillery retook the village during a counterattack in 2016. But Deir Dama had been completely destroyed after Jabhat Al-Nusra lit fire to many homes, and after artillery shelling during the counterattack destroyed remaining houses, as well as the village’s only school and water well.

Since then, residents have been displaced to neighbouring villages with no hope of return, despite civil initiatives to make peace between local Bedouins and Druze. The most prominent of those initiatives was launched by Druze notable Jamal Hunaidi in 2017, to rehabilitate the village and repair Bedouin homes that were burned in a nearby village in retaliation for the attack on Deir Dama. The initiative was aimed at reducing tensions in the area and encouraging civil peace.

The initiative sparked discontent from the Military Security Branch in Suweida, which is the most powerful security apparatus in Syria’s southern region. The branch threatened Hunaidi to halt his initiative, likely to invest in the civil rift between local Bedouin and Druze residents, and to take advantage of the tension to threaten both sides. Hunaidi later stopped his initiative. Military Security, which is loyal to Iran, has meanwhile been working to recruit, organise and arm Bedouins in the Al-Lajat area since 2017, in order to counteract what they called “armed Druze gangs,” as well as to limit the influence of the Russian-backed Fifth Corps in the nearby Bosra Al-Sham.

The destruction of Deir Dama did not stop in the 2016 counterattack. Regime forces returned to the village in 2018, using it as a launching point for military operations in Al-Lajat, leading to retaliatory bombardment on the village. Regime forces then settled in Deir Dama after the end of the battles and did not leave until late 2019.