It is often thought that the regime has a grand strategy for suppressing the rebellion in the western half of the country that constitutes the main conflict within the Syrian civil war. In reality though, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and the question of how the regime deals with restive areas very much depends on area and circumstances. In some places, a Sunni-Alawite sectarian faultline has influenced the regime’s approach: thus we see a clear demographic shift in the city of Homs in favour of the Alawites, with the rebellious and predominantly Sunni neighbourhoods largely depopulated. Indeed it seems unlikely that the majority of the original inhabitants of those neighbourhoods will return for the foreseeable future. Some areas that are not tied to this sectarian faultline but proved to be a thorn in the regime’s side for years- such as Darayya, a suburb to the south of Damascus- will also likely remain depopulated for the time being. Indeed, as of the time of writing, Darayya remains a military zone that can only be visited with a special permit, even for Shi’i pilgrims who may want to see the largely ruined Sakina shrine in the area.
However, it would not be feasible for the regime to depopulate every restive area. It is in this context that the mechanism of ‘reconciliation’ (musalaha) exists, whereby an agreement is struck in order to bring an area officially back under regime authority. The exact terms of the reconciliation agreements have varied from place to place, perhaps reflecting some experimentation. This article will focus on the case of al-Sanamayn, a town in north Deraa province where a reconciliation agreement was struck at the end of December 2016. It is of course also important to give the context of the agreement, thus this article will first provide a general description of the town and its history during the Syrian civil war.