CAIRO -- Iran-aligned militias operating in Syria have been on the move in recent weeks, abandoning their former bastions and repositioning themselves in new locations, Syrian activists told Al-Mashareq.
This movement is particularly evident in and around the cities of Palmyra, al-Mayadeen and Deir Ezzor, they said, across an area that stretches from Palmyra across the Eastern Desert (Badiya) to Deir Ezzor, al-Mayadeen and the eastern countryside of Homs.
Militias aligned with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have relocated out of fear that they will be targeted by US or Israeli air strikes, said Syrian media activist Ammar Saleh.
The redeployment involves all of the Iran-aligned militias "without exception", he said, with the relocation carried out surreptitiously, using civilian vehicles and the militiamen dressed in civilian clothes.
Among them are Lebanese Hizbullah, the Fatemiyoun Division, Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, Harakat al-Nujaba, Liwa al-Baqir, Kataib Hizbullah and the Zainabiyoun Brigade, he said.
After IRGC-backed Liwa al-Quds departed from the Palmyra area, the Fatemiyoun Division -- which comprises Afghan fighters -- took over its vacant posts, Saleh said.
The largest deployment took place in the city of Palmyra "and involved first tier commanders", he added.
New positions within the city reportedly include the Consumer Corporation building, the Badiya Authority building and the Industrial School, he said.
Amid the reshuffle, Saleh said, former weapons depots were emptied of their contents including "ammunition, medium-range weapons and rocket launchers, and these were moved to new depots in the Badiya".
Militias move to new positions
New posts were observed to have been established in the Hamima area east of Deir Ezzor and near the border with Iraq, he said, with militiamen stationed inside the city of Palmyra redeployed to these locations.
Saleh said reinforcements and redeployments also were observed in parts of eastern Aleppo province, including al-Safira, Maskana and Deir Hafer, and at a recently established military base near the village of Habouba where the Fatemiyoun Division is stationed.
It seems the base was established in this area specifically because of its proximity to strongholds of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the opposite bank of the Euphrates River, he said.
This would offer the Iran-aligned militias some protection, he noted, as any air strike against these new posts also would affect the SDF.
In early March, Deir Ezzor activist Jamil al-Abed said, residents of Deir Ezzor, al-Mayadeen and Homs province began to notice "the almost total disappearance of the Iran-affiliated militias".
The old posts are being evacuated, and the militiamen's absence from the streets and markets is quite noticeable, he told Al-Mashareq.
Whenever local residents do encounter militiamen, they are seen travelling in civilian vehicles wearing civilian clothes, he said.
"The transport of weapons and ammunition was done with civilian trucks normally used for the transport of vegetables and foodstuffs," al-Abed added.
It is possible that the Iran-aligned militias are using some of the tunnels dug by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) in the Badiya for arms storage, he said, "as no digging or construction was seen prior to the redeployment".
Ammunition trucks enter al-Shibli
"The militias loyal to Iran are redeploying in the city of Albu Kamal and its desert hinterland and in al-Mayadeen and its environs," Albu Kamal media activist Ayham al-Ali said.
Ammunition trucks were observed entering the vicinity of al-Shibli, an archaeological site and ancient shrine outside al-Mayadeen, he said.
It seems that the militias are deliberately hiding in areas of historic or archaeological significance because they believe "no one would bomb them [there] as that would result in incalculable losses", he added.
Meanwhile, previous posts in the desert around Maadan were vacated and relocated deep into the desert, he said.
"The militias are deliberately keeping their new posts out of sight, closing all roads leading to these areas and refraining from raising flags or banners," he said, noting that this is a departure from their usual style.
The Syrian flag was seen flying over some headquarters to give the illusion that they are posts belonging to the Syrian regular army, al-Ali said.