AMMAN: The revolt against President Bashar Al Assad first flared in Deraa, but the southern border city now epitomises the bloody stalemate gripping Syria after 22 months of violence and 60,000 dead.
Jordan next door has little sympathy with Assad, but is wary of spillover from the upheaval in its bigger neighbour. It has tightened control of its 370-kilometre border with Syria, partly to stop Islamist fighters or weapons from crossing.
That makes things tough for Assad’s enemies in the Hawran plain, traditionally one of Syria’s most heavily militarised regions, where the army has long been deployed to defend the southern approaches to Damascus from any Israeli threat.
“Nothing comes from Jordan,” complained Moaz Al Zubi, an officer in the rebel Free Syrian Army, contacted via Skype from the Jordanian capital Amman.
“If every village had weapons, we would not be afraid, but the lack of them is sapping morale.”
Insurgents in Syria say weapons occasionally do seep through from Jordan but that they rely more on arsenals they seize from Assad’s troops and arms that reach them from distant Turkey.
This month a Syrian pro-government television channel showed footage of what it said was an intercepted shipment of anti-tank weapons in Deraa, without specifying where it had come from.
Assad’s troops man dozens of checkpoints in Deraa, a Sunni city that was home to 180,000 people before the uprising there in March 2011.
They have imposed a stranglehold which insurgents rarely penetrate, apart from sporadic suicide bombings by rebels, say residents and dissidents.
Rebel activity is minimal west of Deraa, where military bases proliferate near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Insurgents have captured some towns and villages in a 25-kilometre wedge of territory east of Deraa, but intensifying army shelling and air strikes have reduced many of these to ruin, forcing their residents to join a rapidly expanding refugee exodus to Jordan, which now hosts 320,000 Syrians.
However, despite more than a month of fighting, Assad’s forces have failed to winkle rebels out of strongholds in the rugged volcanic terrain that stretches from Busra Al Harir, 37 kilometres northeast of Deraa, to the outskirts of Damascus. A scarcity of arms and ammunition is the main complaint of the armed opposition.