#BreakingSyria: Assad’s Latest Offensive Next to Israeli Borders

Videos and photos published by Assad’s soldiers confirm military build-up in Quneitera region

(Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq)

The recent recapture of Yarmouk refugee camp and the surrounding areas gave Assad a strong foothold in areas of Damascus previously contested or held by rebels. As civilians started to come back to Damascus suburban areas, large Syrian Arab Army (SAA) forces were deployed elsewhere for new offensives.

One of the units that fought in the Yarmouk refugee camp and subsequently redeployed on a new front was the elite 4th Division Al Ghaith forces. Newly surfaced open source data suggested that a large offensive is being planned at the Quneitera region, south west from Damascus.

On June 1, a video appeared on Twitter, which claimed to depict 4th Division Al Ghaith forces preparing for an offensive in the vicinity of Baath city. Al-Ghaith group, under the 42th Brigade of the 4th Division of the Syrian Arab Army, is specifically trained for urban combat and counter-insurgency warfare and successfully fought Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and other terrorist organizations in the past.

Video claiming to have captured Al-Ghaith group in Baath city. (Source: Twitter / @lummideast)

@DFRLab analyzed available geolocation data in the video and confirmed the location to be in Baath city, Quneitera region. The apartment building complex in the video is located in the western part of Baath city, less than two kilometers away from the Israeli controlled Golan Heights.

Approximate distance of where the video was taken to the Golan heights (Syria Liveuamap data on June 1, 2018). Legend: Blue — Israel territory; Red — Assad’s regime territory; Green — Syrian Rebels; Black — ISIS. Left, Top Right: (Source: Liveuamap); Bottom Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

The distinct pattern of the buildings allowed us to find the exact location of where the video was taken. The man in the first frames of the video was pointing in the direction of Israeli border, and the unfinished buildings visible behind the soldiers allowed to find out where the north direction in the video was.

Geolocation #1: Comparisson of Baath city satellite imagery and June 1 video footage. Bottom Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Rest: (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq).

Furthermore, a few selfie photos also appeared on Twitter the same day. These photos gave a more detailed look into surrounding structures and allowed us to confirm the distinct designs of the buildings to satellite imagery.

Geolocation #2: Photos of Al Ghaith group taken in the Baath city. Top Left, Bottom Right: (Source: GoogleMaps); Bottom Left: (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq); Right: (Source: Twitter / @IvanSidorenko1).

The officer that the soldiers were taking selfies with was recognized as Colonel Ghaith Dalla. Colonel Dalla is the verified commander of the Al Ghaith group and known for his leadership in previous operations including the Al Qaboun offensive last year.

Comparison of Colonel Ghaith Dalla photos. Top Left: (Source: Twitter / @MmaGreen); Bottom Left, Right: (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq).

A number of unverified photos also appeared on Twitter, suggesting an intensifying build-up of SAA forces in the regions of Quneitera and Daraa. Despite these photos are currently unconfirmed, the Al Gaith group’s presence in the region suggests that the large scale build-up is highly likely.

Alleged build-up of SAA soldiers in Quneitera region. (Source: Twitter / @QalaatAlMudiq)

Meanwhile on the other side of the barricades, Free Syrian Army posted photos of large military convoys of Shabab al-Sunna forces in Daraa region today. Shabab al-Sunna (Youth of Sunna Forces) in Syria, a rebel formation affiliated with the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front.

Alleged Shabab al-Sunna military convoys in the Daraa region. (Source: Twitter / @FSAPlatform)

Conclusion

As the fighting in Damascus region ended with control by Assad’s regime, SAA has set new military goals in Syria. Open source evidence suggests that a large force of SAA troops is gathered in the southern most rebel held area of Quneitera and Daraa. As forces mass on both sides, large scale fighting seems inevitable in upcoming days.

The close proximity of the contested areas to Israeli borders also raise the risk of Israeli military involvement. As the recent incident in the Golan Heights showed, any perceived military provocation will prompt Israeli strikes, potentially influencing the outcome of the upcoming battles.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor significant military developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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