Military operation continues in Syria's Daraa as more towns return under gov't control

Li Jiayao

DAMASCUS, June 30 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian military operation in the southern province of Daraa continued on Saturday amid ongoing reconciliation efforts, and more towns returned under the government control, local media said.

The Syrian army captured the town of Western Ghariyeh in the northeastern countryside of Daraa on Saturday, following battles with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, according to state news agency SANA.

The army also shelled areas in the vicinity of the al-Jumruk town, where Nusra Front militants are located.

The plains surrounding al-Jumruk are important as they constitute key supply routes to the rebels in al-Balad area inside Daraa from the eastern countryside of Daraa province and the Jordanian border, according to SANA.

The plains are also the escape route of the militants to Jordan.

In the northeastern countryside of Daraa, the Syrian army continued to target the Nusra Front in the towns of Karak and Msaifra.

Meanwhile, a military source told Xinhua that the Syrian forces captured several towns in the northern countryside of Daraa and entered four towns Saturday after the militants accepted to surrender through a reconciliation deal.

The source on condition of anonymity said the rebels in the city of Busra al-Sham in Daraa accepted the entry of the Syrian army into the city and hoisted the official Syrian flag on the citadel of Busra al-Sham.

The Syrian army started the operation against the rebels in Daraa 11 days ago, with the aim of entirely capturing the rebel-held areas due to the strategic location of Daraa near Jordan.

The state media said the military operations are going in tandem with the reconciliation efforts, which explains the situation where several towns accepted the entry of the Syrian army without battles.

However, the rebels who reject the reconciliation offer are still fighting back, as SANA said a girl was killed and many more children and women were wounded Saturday when mortar shells slammed government-controlled areas in Daraa.

Meanwhile, the oppositional Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 10 people were killed by shelling on the rebel-held town of Sahwa east of Daraa on Saturday. It added that a total of 126 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the military campaign in Daraa.

The watchdog group said negotiation is ongoing between the Russian side, which represents the Syrian government, and representatives of the militant groups in the eastern countryside of Daraa.

It added that the round of negotiation held on Saturday failed, after which the warplanes intensified airstrikes on the rebel-held areas in eastern Daraa.

The observatory said that 120,000 people fled their homes in the eastern countryside of Daraa as a result of the military operations.

The displaced people are now located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, charging that the Jordanian border control forces fired on people who attempted to cross the border into Jordan, it said.

A day earlier, the UN warned of humanitarian catastrophe if fighting escalated in Daraa.

The UN said thousands of people are fleeing the battles, warning that civilians caught in the violence are likely to be trapped in Daraa as Jordan has closed its border.

The Syrian army is fighting the rebels in the countryside of Daraa, as well as the in the countryside of Sweida and the Quneitra province near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Daraa has a symbolic significance as it was the birthplace of the Syrian war that erupted in 2011, and securing it will be a big victory for the Syrian army both symbolically and militarily as the rebels have used the Jordanian border to bring in arms and fighters throughout the Syrian war.

Ahead of the start of the military offensive in Daraa, the Russians, the Syrian government's main international allies, attempted to establish reconciliation with the rebels in the southern region amid talks and coordination with Israel and the United States.

However, the offensive started with the army bringing in reinforcements as the talks were not fruitful. The Syrian government accused Israel of thwarting talks for settling the situation in southern Syria and also accused the Nusra Front of preventing other rebel groups from accepting to reconcile with the government.

The government has repeatedly accused Israel of supporting the rebels in southern Syria and also charged that Jordan was aiding the rebels.

It seems that the military action in Daraa has pushed the rebels to be more practical in dealing with the situation and start to surrender to the army in some towns.

On Wednesday, state media outlets said 1,000 people in Daraa countryside surrendered to the army, including rebel fighters and draft dodgers.


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