Syrian army to launch military operation against rebels in Daraa

Li Jiayao

DAMASCUS, May 25 (Xinhua) -- After dislodging the rebels entirely from the capital Damascus, the Syrian army's next military operation will be in the southern province of Daraa, activists and a military expert said on Friday.

The Syrian air force dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Daraa on Friday, urging the militants to lay down their weapons as military reinforcements were sent to southern Syria.

Ali Maksoud, a retired military officer, told Xinhua that the military reinforcements and the dropping of leaflets by Syrian helicopters indicate that all preparations have completed for launching the next military operation in Daraa.

This development comes as the Syrian army has recently dislodged the rebels from the Eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus and the Qalamoun region in the northern countryside of Damascus as well as formerly Islamic State (IS)-held areas south of Damascus.

Daraa is so important as it's located near the Jordanian border and is 100 km from the capital.

"After liberating southern Damascus, the forces have been sent to southern Syria to push the rebels in the western countryside of Daraa to lay down their weapons and embark on reconciliation with the Syrian government before the commencement of the military operations there," Maksoud told Xinhua.

He noted that a state of confusion prevails among the various rebel groups in Daraa, mainly between the Khaled Bin al-Walid group and the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Maksoud noted that Khaled Bin al-Walid group has pledged alliance with IS.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian helicopters dropped the leaflets on Daraa in tandem with the movement of Syrian forces toward Daraa, noting that this military progress has been agreed upon with the Russians.

The leaflets included photos of slain militants with a message reading "don't be like those... this is the ultimate end to all those who insist on holding arms... leave your weapons before it's too late."

Other leaflets read: "You have two choices; either to die or leave your weapons because the Syrian army men are coming so make your decision before it's too late."

The leaflets also urged the people of Daraa to help the Syrian army to dislodge the "terrorists."

The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said the Syrian forces started moving toward Daraa under the supervision of Russian experts and without the participation of the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

The UK-based watchdog group said this development means a wide-scale military offensive in Daraa if the rebels there refused to surrender.

Meanwhile, activists said that the commanders of the rebels there have held meeting with foreign security apparatuses in Jordan to discuss the next move in Daraa.

Daraa was the birthplace of Syria's seven-year-long crisis, with the first anti-government protests erupting in that place before turning into an armed insurgency that has spread across the country.

The Syrian military move comes after the army secured vital and key areas across the country, including in the capital Damascus.


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