FRI 15 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 2, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Rebels, Russia pursue talks over battered south Syria: activist group
Agence France Presse
DERAA, Syria: Syrian rebels and local officials pursued talks with regime ally Russia Sunday over the fate of a key southern region facing a government offensive, a Britain-based activist group said.

The Jordan-backed talks came as a tentative calm reigned over most fronts in the southern province of Deraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

A "ceasefire has largely held since Saturday at 7:00 pm to facilitate the ongoing negotiations," Observatory chief Rami Abdel-Rahman said.

Since June 19, Russia-backed regime forces have ramped up bombardment against opposition fighters in southern Syria as Damascus pushes to retake the area.

The region borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and is considered to be the cradle of the uprising against President Bashar Assad seven years ago that sparked the civil war.

The regime has chipped away at rebel-held territory in Deraa since the escalation began almost two weeks ago.

Most fronts were quiet Sunday with the exception of areas near Tafas in Deraa's northwest hit by regime air strikes, the Observatory said.

Clashes between rebels and regime forces in the same area killed four opposition fighters, it said.

Russia is seeking the rebel handover of heavy and medium-sized weapons, and the deployment of Russian military police and Syrian police into towns retaken by government forces, Abdel-Rahman said.

Damascus and Moscow are pushing for a deal that would see regime forces take over the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and deploy along the frontier with the Golan Heights, he said.

An AFP correspondent outside Deraa city - part of which is held by rebels - said Saturday night had been quiet, with only intermittent bombardment.

After retaking control of eight towns under Russia-mediated deals on Saturday, Assad's regime now controls more than half of Deraa province, up from just 30 percent before the escalation, according to the Observatory.

State news agency SANA said Sunday the national flag had been hoisted in one of these towns, Dael, while Syrian state television showed images of people celebrating.

Regime forces have retaken large parts of the country lost to rebels since Russia intervened on its behalf in 2015.

The conflict has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.

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