Russia resumes air strikes in Daraa as talks with Syrian opposition fighters collapse

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Smoke rises above opposition-held areas of the city of Saida, some 10 kilometers east of Daraa, during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 4, 2018. (AFP / Mohamad Abazeed)
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Syrian government forces' soldiers display weapons confiscated from opposition fighters in the town of Ezraa, province of Daraa, on July 4, 2018. (AFP / Youssef Karwashan)
Updated 05 July 2018
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Russia resumes air strikes in Daraa as talks with Syrian opposition fighters collapse

  • Assad regime forces backed by Russian air power launched an offensive last month to recapture the region from opposition groups led by the Free Syrian Army, and have seized a large chunk of their territory.
  • The peace talks collapsed because the Russians insisted that opposition forces hand over all their heavy weapons immediately and unconditionally, Free Syrian Army spokesman Abu Shaima said.

AMMAN, Jordan: Russia launched its first airstrikes in four days in the southern Syrian region of Daraa on Wednesday after talks aimed at restoring the Assad regime rule collapsed.

The airstrikes targeted Tafas, northwest of the provincial capital Daraa, and Saida to the east. Barrel bombs were also dropped on Saida.

Regime forces backed by Russian air power launched an offensive last month to recapture the region from opposition groups led by the Free Syrian Army, and have seized a large chunk of their territory.

Opposition delegates had been negotiating with Russia since Saturday to end fighting by accepting the return of state sovereignty, but they failed to agree. The talks collapsed because the Russians insisted that opposition forces hand over all their heavy weapons immediately and unconditionally, Free Syrian Army spokesman Abu Shaima said.

Arab News obtained a copy of the 13-point opposition plan rejected by Russian negotiators. In it, the Free Syrian Army offers to surrender its heavy weapons immediately on condition of international or Arab guarantees to any deal, and the simultaneous release of half the prisoners held by the Assad regime.

It also demands the right of all displaced Syrians to return to their homes without any restrictions or punishment. Other issues to be resolved were the status of former Syrian army officers, and the right of Free Syrian Army fighters in Daraa to join the remaining opposition forces in the northwestern province of Idlib.

The opposition also suggested Jordan could guarantee the agreement, but sources in Amman said this was unlikely. 

“Jordan is keen on the stability of south Syria and will do everything it can to make a peaceful resolution work, but it is unlikely that Jordanian troops will be deployed to guarantee any agreement,” Naser Tahboub, chairman of the international development department at the University of Jordan, told Arab News.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks in Moscow on Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and said a humanitarian catastrophe risked unfolding in southern Syria if there were no cease-fire. 

Jordan was working to find a political solution that can “guarantee the security of Syrians and their dignity in their own country,” he said.

Lavrov said Syria would be discussed at the coming summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 


Buses arrive to ferry Syria rebels out of zone near Golan

Updated 14 min 50 sec ago
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Buses arrive to ferry Syria rebels out of zone near Golan

  • The transfers come under a surrender deal agreed this week between Russia and Syrian rebels in Quneitra province
  • Rebels will hand over territory they control in Quneitra and the neighboring buffer zone with the Israeli-occupied Golan

BEIRUT: Buses were gathering on Friday in a southwestern sliver of Syria near the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights to transfer rebel fighters and civilians to opposition territory further north, a monitor said.
The transfers come under a surrender deal agreed this week between Russia and Syrian rebels in Quneitra province that will see the sensitive zone fall back under state control.
Rebels will hand over territory they control in Quneitra and the neighboring buffer zone with the Israeli-occupied Golan, a war monitor and a rebel source told AFP.
The deal included safe passage to northern Syria for any hard-liners who refuse to live under government control, and buses began entering the area Friday to carry out the transfers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The buses reached government-controlled territory in Quneitra on Thursday, and today they began crossing into opposition areas for the evacuation,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
He said it remained unclear how many fighters and civilians would ultimately be evacuated, but that the buses would likely be picking up people from multiple locations in Quneitra and the adjacent buffer.
A rebel source told AFP that the evacuations were expected to begin around mid-morning on Friday.
Quneitra is a thin, crescent-shaped province wedged between the buffer to the west and the Syrian province of Daraa to its east.
One month ago, Syria’s regime launched an operation to retake rebel areas in Daraa and Quneitra, using military force and surrender deals brokered by its Russian ally.
Fighting forced several hundred thousand people to flee, and as many as 140,000 remain displaced in Quneitra, according to the United Nations.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) warned they are inaccessible to aid organizations based around an hour away in Damascus because of a lack of approvals.
Both Israel and Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, have kept their borders closed to the displaced.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in 1967 and later annexed it, in a move never recognized internationally.