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Syria: The Syrian military unit called Saraya al-Difaa' (Difa'), its role in an alleged coup attempt in 1995, and the fate of its officers and men

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 June 1998
Citation / Document Symbol SYR29544.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Syria: The Syrian military unit called Saraya al-Difaa' (Difa'), its role in an alleged coup attempt in 1995, and the fate of its officers and men, 1 June 1998, SYR29544.E, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Rifaat al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, was reportedly in charge of an elite military force called Saraya al-Difaa' ("al-difa' "), or "Defense Companies," until 1984 (al-Wasat 16 Feb. 1998). The deployment of  the Defense Companies in 1983 and 1984 while President Hafez al-Assad was seriously ill and unable to attend to government matters led some members of the Syrian government to fear that Rifaat was becoming too powerful at the expense of other potential successors to Hafez al-Assad. This led to Rifaat's departure from Syria at an unspecified date in 1984 or later, and the incorporation of the Defense Companies into the regular Syrian army. Despite his effective banishment from Syria, Rifaat was named as a titular vice-president of Syria. Rifaat returned to Syria in 1992 (ibid.; Middle East International 13 Mar. 1998, 4).

In June 1996 a Jordanian publication reported that the "Syrian Defense Companies," which had "acted against Jordan" in the early 1980s, had once again (the date is not specified) become active in Jordan (Shihan 8-14 June 1996). This was reported in the context of an article on the recent deterioration in relations between Jordan and Syria.

No references to a coup attempt in Syria in 1995 could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. An independent journalist based in Britain who has written extensively about Syrian politics informed the Research Directorate that he is not aware of any coup attempt in Syria in 1995 (16 June 1998).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Al-Wasat [London, in Arabic]. 16 February 1998. "Syria: Recent Role of Syria's Rif'at al-Asad Viewed." (FBIS-NES-98-064 5 Mar. 1998/WNC)

Journalist, London, UK. 16 June 1998. Telephone interview.

Middle East International [London]. No. 570. 13 March 1998. Steve Sherman. "Syria: The Fall of Rifaat."

 Shihan [Amman, in Arabic]. 8-14 June 1996. "Jordan: Shihan Views Background of Crisis with Syria." (FBIS-NES-96-113 11 June 1996/WNC)

Additional Sources Consulted

The Europa World Year Book 1997.

Political Handbook of the World 1997.

Electronic sources: IRB databases, Global News Bank, Keesing's, LEXIS/NEXIS, REFWORLD.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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