Hardly a week goes by without fighting between militias loyal to the Assad regime in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, often due to disputes over smuggling revenues. However, some of these fights have taken a different turn recently, especially the conflict between the National Defense Militias and the Fourth Division.
The conflict between the National Defense Militia and Maher al-Assad’s Fourth Division militia began with the start of the “settlement” operations in Deir-ez-Zor governorate, which were announced by Assad’s militia in mid-October 2021.
The “settlement” process at that time included civilians residing in the areas of the island, and members of the loyal militias in the areas controlled by the Assad militia. The “settlement” lasted about four months, and a large number of those who conducted the “settlement” were members of the National Defense Militia. A large part of them then went to join the Fourth Division, as they did not perform compulsory service, and some of them were previously with the opposition.
“The enmity between the two parties increased significantly during the settlement processes when the National Defense Militia handed over the entire eastern sector it supervised in Deir-ez-Zor to the Fourth Division on March 3, 2022. The Division took control along the Deir Ezzor-Mayadeen city road, thus acquiring river crossings designated for smuggling in the area,” said activist Mohammed al-Khaled from Deir-ez-Zor.
Khaled added: “The most prominent event in increasing the rift between the two parties was on April 10 of 2022, when the commander of the eastern sector of the National Defense Militia in Deir-ez-Zor, called (Hassan Al-Ghadban), conducted a settlement process accompanied by his members. He joined with 250 of his members to the Fourth Division and handed over to the militia’s headquarters located in the Harabish neighborhood in Deir ez-Zor city, adjacent to the military airport.”
The incident opened the door wide for a series of incidents and disputes between the National Defence and the Fourth Division, he said. The two sides compete to attract members amid a conflict between them over smuggling crossings in Deir-ez-Zor.
Journalist Abdul Salam al-Hussein explained that the two militias today oversee most of the smuggling crossings on the Euphrates River in coordination with leaders of the SDF on the other side. Each militia has its own crossings from the countryside of Albu Kamal, east of Deir-ez-Zor, to the town of Maadan in the countryside of Raqqa.
He pointed out that these crossings generate millions on both sides daily, from the smuggling of drugs, fuel, oil, antiquities and people as well. The two sides will not hesitate to target anyone who gets in their way.
In late October, the security services of the Assad militia, instigated by the leadership of the Fourth Division, arrested eight smugglers in the city of al-Boukamal, who dealt with the National Defense Militia. It was later revealed that the eight smugglers had left work with the Fourth Division and joined the National Defense.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.