Syria pounds rebel areas in south, thousands flee to border zone

Syrian regime forces on Saturday made their first gains on the ground against rebel fighters in the southern province of Daraa after several days of intensified bombardment. (AFP)
Updated 23 June 2018

Syria pounds rebel areas in south, thousands flee to border zone

  • Syrian regime forces make their first gains on the ground against rebel fighters in the southern province of Daraa after several days of intensified bombardment
  • Since Tuesday, regime troops have been ramping up shelling on opposition-held areas in Daraa's eastern countryside ahead of an apparent military offensive against rebels there

AMMAN: The Syrian army and allied forces pounded rebel-held areas of the southwest as thousands of civilians fled to safer opposition held areas along the border with Jordan and Israel, aid workers and rebels said.
They said hundreds of families with their personal belongings had arrived in the last two days in the towns of Tayba and Mataiyah, just a few kilometers from the heavily patrolled border with Jordan.
Busra al Harir, Nahta, Maliha and a sting of towns and villages east of Daraa city have borne the brunt of a ramped up assault by the Syrian army begun last week. It is targeting opposition areas in the strategic region bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Thousands of Syrians also fled frontline opposition-held villages of Masahra and Hara in the Quneitra province to makeshift camps near the border with Israel, where Syrian artillery avoid shelling, two residents said.
The army’s offensive threatens to wreck a de-escalation zone agreed by the United States and Russia last year and risks drawing Washington deeper into the war.
On Saturday, rebels said they had repelled several attempts to seize villages in the Laja region, a volcanic, rugged area that lies between Daraa and Sweida provinces, where most of the ground forces clashes have so far taken place.
“The army is intensifying its campaign and continuing its mobilization on several fronts,” said Abu Bayan, head of Liwa Suquour al Jnoub Free Syrian Army faction.
State media said “terrorists” had fired mortars on Dama and Shomara villages in the Laja region while several rural villages located west of the mainly Druze-inhabited Sweida city were targeted by insurgents.
The United States on Thursday reiterated its demand that the zone be respected, warning Assad and his Russian allies of serious repercussions over violations.
It accused Damascus of initiating air strikes, artillery and rocket attacks.
The southwest is of strategic concern to US-allied Israel, which has this year stepped up attacks on Iran-backed militia allied to Assad.
USally Jordan which has been worried by the escalation said it was engaged in intensive diplomacy with Washington and Moscow to preserve the zone and prevent a wider confrontation.
The kingdom, already burdened with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, fear a spillover of refugees along the border if fighting escalates.

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 53 min 26 sec ago

Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province


BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.