The Syrian army laid siege to the opposition held-enclave in Daraa yesterday, despite the regime’s previously negotiated deal to allow fighters to leave for the north.
A spokesman for the opposition in Deraa said that several thousand people were now encircled after the army pushed into a base west of the city and fanned out across the Syria-Jordan border. “The army and its militias have besieged Deraa completely,” explained Abu Shaima.
State media alleges that the army is cracking down on “terrorists”, but contradicts the terms of the agreement reached last Friday that stipulated fighters would be allowed to leave the south followed by the handover of heavy weaponry.
“There are fighters who want to go to [opposition-held] Idlib but this was rejected after we were besieged,” said Abu Shaima, referring to a meeting on Sunday in which he said a go-between with the Syrian army had flatly rejected their demands to leave. “There is a lot of fear about the unknown fate that awaits us and we do not trust the Russians or [the] regime.” He added that the remaining rebels in Deraa city were still holding their front-line positions.
Journalists in Deraa also fear for their lives as the regime pushes further into the city. Earlier today the Syria Journalists’ Association issued an appeal for the protection of the 270 reporters and activists in the besieged enclave.
“Those besieged media workers ask for help and to be provided with safe transfer by opening the southern border with Jordan,” said the association. “They fear that they will otherwise be killed or arrested, as the records show many violations were committed by the regime in Syria against media professionals.”
Syrian forces seized much of the southern Deraa province last week, taking control of the Nassib crossing at the Jordanian border, a vital trade artery.
According to the UN, at least 250,000 people have fled from Syria’s south following the government offensive, in what was previously a de-escalation zone as facilitated by Russia and the US. “The living conditions of the civilians affected by the conflict in the Syrian south are currently dire,” said UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali Al-Zaatari. He welcomed the government’s request to mobilise aid.
The region is strategically sensitive due to its proximity to Israel and Jordan. The regime in Damascus also aspires to recover control of opposition-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in the coming weeks.