Rebel fighters from 'Jaysh al-Sunna' gesture as they ride a vehicle in Tel Mamo village, in the southern countryside of Aleppo, Syria.
(photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)
Residents in southern Syria reported an increasing crescendo of air strikes they alleged were by Russian aircraft on Thursday, a day after the Syrian rebels in the south walked away from surrender negotiations.
Since mid-June, the Syrian regime and its Russian ally have swept the rebels from a swath of territory, pushing them towards the Jordanian border and Israel’s Golan Heights.
More than 300,000 people have fled the advance. The Syrian regime and Russian air force have been careful not to carry out air strikes within 10 km. of the 1974 cease-fire line on the Golan.
On Wednesday, the Syrian rebels said they walked away from negotiations
with Russia about a ceasefire. The rebels said they had come to discuss a cease fire but found themselves presented with “humiliating” terms, including that they hand over their weapons and stop fighting. The rebels in southern Syria met the Russian delegation in an undisclosed town in southern Syria somewhere near Dara’a.
Dara’a is one of the main cities that the Syrian rebellion began in during the 2011 Arab Spring and it therefore holds special significance. It is also just a few kilometers from the Jordanian border. Although the rebels have been chased out of many towns and villages in the last weeks, they have held on to part of Dara’a and a corridor that runs along the Jordanian border and then up towards the Golan.
After the rebels rejected what amounted to surrender terms the air strikes by Russia and the Syrian regime increased dramatically Thursday.
Of special importance is the town of Tafas, which links the rebel areas near the Golan with the areas near Jordan. It was hit by “tens of airs trikes” according to residents. Rumors online have indicated that Russia is playing a central role in what comes next.
This is partly because Russia is a party to the cease fire in the south with the US and Jordan. It is also because Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to meet US President Donald Trump this month and has also invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow. Any deal in the south could see the deployment of Russian observers as has happened in north Syria.
Jordan wants the fighting to stop as hundreds of thousands of refugees
are now at the country’s border and the UN has pressured Amman to open it. Amman has said it won’t allow more refugees in, as it already hosts around a million people who have fled conflict in the region.