Syrian Rebels Return To Talks Over Pullout After Fierce Bombing Campaign

Marsha Scott
July 7, 2018

South Syrian rebels said on Friday they had agreed to cease fire and start handing over heavy weapons in a deal mediated by Russian Federation that will restore state sovereignty over areas they hold in Deraa province after a fierce government offensive.

Shortly afterwards, an Al Jazeera reporter on the ground saw a convoy of about 10 army trucks with Russian and Syrian flags entering the strategically important Nassib border crossing, held by the rebels for three years. Early Thursday, the talks were reported to have fallen apart, and nearly immediately Syrian forces launched a flurry of intense airstrikes against rebels in the area.

Syrian army soldiers managed to establish full control over a strategic town in Dara'a, as they seek to put an ultimate end to the presence of militants in the eastern and southeastern sectors of the province.

But the announcement only came after government forces advanced earlier on Friday along the frontier with Jordan towards the Nasib border crossing, sources on the ground said.

With the help of Russian air power, the government's assault has swept into swathes of Deraa over the past two weeks, shrinking one of Syria's last rebel strongholds.

The UN refugee agency has urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians fleeing their homes.

The negotiations collapsed on Wednesday, ushering in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

Assad's next target in the southwest appears to be rebel-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where fighting between insurgents and the government escalated on Friday.

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Rebel territory in the south was included in a ceasefire brokered past year by Russian Federation, the United States, and Jordan, but that has done little to stem the violence.

On Thursday, the rebels' joint operations room in the south said it would be willing to resume talks.

"Thanks to the efforts of Russian officers, militants in Busra al-Sham have handed over a battle tank, an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and an artillery gun to government forces".

Government advances in Deraa since mid June had brought large parts of the province back under state control.

"After the town of Al-Mutaaiyah agreed to the regime taking over, government forces are now four kilometres east of the crossing", Abdel Rahman said.

More than 150 civilians have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to the Observatory.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council convened in an urgent closed-door meeting to discuss the south, but Russian Federation blocked the council from adopting a statement.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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