South Syrian rebels to lay down arms as Assad seizes crossing

South Syrian rebels to lay down arms as Assad seizes crossing

South Syrian rebels to lay down arms as Assad seizes crossing

Rebels in Syria's battered south are returning to talks with government ally Russian Federation, an opposition spokesman said on Thursday, after almost a full day of unprecedented bombing on their positions.

Within 24 hours of the resumed bombing, rebels said they wanted to return to negotiations, with the talks focusing on their pullout from the territory they still control in Daraa's western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.

"Within a short period of time, they will reach the (Nassib) crossing", the non-Syrian commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was in Moscow on Wednesday, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss Syria and other issues.

Earlier on Thursday, Syria's official news agency SANA reported that government forces advanced towards the Dara'a al-Balad residential area of Dara'a, located about 13 kilometers north of the border with Jordan, where militants affiliated to the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, Takfiri terror group are positioned.

Jordanian residents of Jabir village watch aid deliveries to Syrians fleeing government offensive in the south as smoke from unknown fire rises, July 3, 2018. The Israeli military said it had struck a Syrian army post.

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The fighting and air strikes have already driven more than a quarter of million people in southwest Syria from their homes, the United Nations said on Monday, seeking shelter along the frontiers with Jordan and Israel.

It echoes the terms of previous opposition surrenders, but according to rebel sources, they also secured a concession that some government forces would withdraw from the area. The Norwegian Refugee Council has called this the largest displacement of Syria's seven-year war.

Rebel spokesman Hussein Abazeed told AFP that "the deal was the best we could achieve to save the lives of our fighters".

The negotiations collapsed on Wednesday, with rebels blaming Russian Federation, ushering in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

Daraa province encompasses most of the area held by rebels in the southwest, one of their last remaining strongholds in Syria.

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Rebels say Russian Federation has insisted that opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons all at once, while rebels want to relinquish their arms in several phases.

Rebels then handed over some 275 square kilometres of border territory without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syria's cash-strapped government hopes to recapture Nassib so that it can reopen trade with Jordan to the south.

Southwest Syria was declared a de-escalation zone past year by Russia, Jordan and the United States.

More than 150 civilians have been killed since the start of the offensive, according to the Observatory.

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