Deal reached to end violence in southern Syria


BEIRUT: Rebels said Friday that they have reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end violence in southern Syria and surrender the crossing point with Jordan after Syrian government forces, following an intense aerial campaign, captured new areas along the border.

Syrian government forces launched a wide offensive on June 19 to retake Daraa province and the nearby Quneitra region that borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The attack has displaced some 330,000 people and left dozens dead.

Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels’ joint operations room, said they have reached an agreement with the Russians in which insurgents will begin to hand over some of their heavy weapons in return for a government pullout from several villages.

Jabawi added that Russian military police will deploy along the border with Jordan, including the Naseeb border crossing, and that rebels opposed to the deal will be evacuated to rebel-held regions in northern Syria.

There was no immediate comment from President Bashar Assad’s government and its Russian backers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 159 civilians have been killed since the offensive began two weeks ago, including 33 children.

Friday’s agreement came after bombardment of rebel-held areas intensified earlier this week after rebels rejected a deal with the Russians. The crushing new wave of attacks appear to have compelled the rebels to accept the deal.

Nabaa Media, an opposition activist collective, said the latest government assault on the area killed several people including a woman and her four children in a rebel-held village in Daraa. The agency posted a video showing what it said were the women and her children lying dead in a pickup truck.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement Friday that it received “horrific reports” of an entire family including four children being killed. It said the latest deaths bring to 65 the number of children reported killed in less than three weeks in southern Syria alone.

“In the largest wave of displacement to hit southern Syria since the start of the seven-year-long war, an estimated 180,000 children have been forced to flee their homes with little resource for protection, shelter or assistance,” UNICEF said.

Earlier Friday, the government-controlled Central Military Media said government forces now control most of the towns and villages on the eastern side of southern Daraa province and should capture the Naseeb border crossing “within hours.”

The Observatory said Syrian troops are now about three kilometers (2 miles) from the Naseeb border crossing. It added that the government now controls almost 70 percent of the province that was the first to rise against Assad in 2011.