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Syrian regime escalates Daraa offensive as rebels 'dumped' by US

| 2018-06-26 19:11:00
Syrian regime escalates Daraa offensive as rebels 'dumped' by US


(Zaman Al Wasl)- Syrian regime media are reporting that airstrikes are targeting southeastern parts of southern Daraa province, ahead of a new offensive there.

State-run TV says the offensive aims to cut supply lines between eastern Daraa and rebel-held parts of the provincial capital, which carries the same name.

Rebels say elite regime troops backed by Iranian-backed local militias have been escalating attacks on their posts in "Triangle of Death" north of Daraa. 

The TV says the operations that began on Tuesday afternoon near the province's main grain silos that have been controlled by rebels for years.

The regime troops backed by Hezbollah and allied Shiite militias have been on the offensive in Daraa for a week. The fighting has displaced nearly 50,000 people and left dozens of civilians dead.

The city of Daraa is where pro-democracy protests broke out in March 2011 that later turned into a civil war.

At least 29 people were killed over the past 24 hours in the regime airstrikes in the towns of Busra al-Harir, Al-Hirak, Al-Sourah and Nahtah. 

  Busra al-Harir is of particular strategic value, as it represents the only means of accessing Daraa’s eastern countryside. 

Syrian regime forces had so far made heavy use of artillery and rockets in the current assault, and Russian warplanes that were critical to the recovery of other rebel-held areas had not been deployed until now.

 An army officer told Zaman al-Wasl, on condition of anonymity, that the regime Air Force has mobilized 60 fighter jets for Daraa offensive.  

Six military airports, including Mezzah, Dumayr, Khelkhaleh and al-Seen, are taking part in the assault, he added. 

 Meanwhile,  at least 50,000 people have fled fighting in Daraa, heading towards the border with Jordan, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that civilians including children had been killed and injured and a hospital had been put out of operation by an air strike, Reuters reported.

Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman of the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP), told the ssame briefing: "We expect the number of displaced people could nearly double as violence escalates."

 Zaman Al Wasl TV has interviewed some of the displaced people who start building a new refugee camp in the town of Braiqa near the Occupied Golan Heights. They said regime would not dare to pound them to avoid the Isralei retaliation.

 Most of refugees fled an area so-called "Triangle of Death", which connects southern Damascus countryside with Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

Jordan said Sunday it would be unable to host a new wave of Syrian refugees, according too AFP.
 
Some 650,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations in Jordan since fleeing their country's seven-year war, which was sparked by peaceful anti-regime protests in 2011.

Amman estimates the actual number is closer to 1.3 million people and says it has spent more than US$10 billion (RM40 billion) hosting them.

In recent weeks regime forces have dropped leaflets over Daraa and Quneitra, warning of impending military operations and calling on the rebels to surrender. 


US LET DOWN REBELS

The Trump administration appears to be walking away from a pledge to enforce an arrangement to stabilize southwestern Syria as the military presses ahead with an offensive in Daraa despite repeated U.S. warnings.

The offensive violates an agreement among the U.S., Russia and neighboring Jordan, whose monarch met with President Donald Trump on Monday. The nearly year-old agreement is intended to preserve the status quo in Syria's southwest, but recent public and private statements suggest the U.S. commitment is slipping.

Although the administration has been consistent in criticizing Russia for backing Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces' advance into the "de-escalation zone" in Daraa, over the past two weeks U.S. officials in Washington and in the Middle East have steadily walked back on warnings of American retaliation for violations.

And as the situation became more critical Monday, threatening an influx of refugees fleeing the fighting into Jordan, Amman announced it would not take in the newly displaced.

Trump has made no secret of his desire to extricate the United States from Syria.
When Trump met Monday with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Washington, the White House said, the president "expressed concerns" about the pro-Assad operations in southwest Syria but gave no indication they would trigger a U.S. response.

In brief comments to reporters, Trump said only that a "lot of progress" had been made in the Middle East, but he did not identify specific areas of improvement.

Earlier Monday, however, the State Department said the situation in southwest Syria remained a matter of serious concern, although it pointedly did not repeat earlier threats of a U.S. response that had been standard in such comments since May.

The quiet backtrack has occurred over the course of the last month, as what started as allusions to a potential U.S. military response evolved into mere expressions of concern.

In late May, the State Department first sounded the alarm in public about an "impending" operation by Assad's forces in the area covered by the ceasefire. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert warned both Syria and Russia on May 25 that "the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations."

Nauert repeated the threat verbatim two weeks later on June 14 as indications grew that a Syrian operation could be imminent. Upping the rhetoric against Russia, she insisted the ceasefire "must continue to be enforced and respected." ''We affirm again that the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Syrian government violations in this area," she said.

But by June 21, amid reports that Syrian forces were actually operating in the ceasefire area, the U.S. had backed 
away from that tough line, warning only of "the serious repercussions of these violations." Nauert, in a statement urging all sides not to let the conflict broaden, did not elaborate on what those repercussions might be.

In a meeting two days later between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and King Abdullah, Syria did not even come up, at least according to the official U.S. description of the meeting. Instead, the two discussed economics, defeating the Islamic State group and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the State Department said in a statement.

Over the weekend, reports emerged that the U.S. liaison team to rebels in Daraa had told rebel commanders that they were essentially on their own.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Daraa-based opposition activist Osama Hourani said the U.S. had informed rebel groups in southern Syria that Washington would not intervene to defend them.

A U.S. official familiar with the matter confirmed on Monday that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Amman had sent text messages to the commanders advising them that they should make decisions about continuing to fight based on the interests of their factions and families and not "on the assumption or expectation of military intervention by us." The official was not authorized to discuss the message publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Monday's State Department statement, meanwhile, made no mention of any repercussions from the U.S. or anyone else. Instead, the U.S. said it was "closely following the situation and emphasizing to Russia the "critical nature of the mutual adherence to the ceasefire arrangement."

"We will not comment further on ongoing diplomatic conversations," it said.

Zaman Al Wasl with Agencies 
Zaman Al Wasl
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