Assad unleashes airstrikes, troops against southern city of Daara as 45K flee

Weeks after reconquering Eastern Ghouta and days after offering to negotiate with rebel groups opposed to his rule, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has authorized an intensive bombing campaign against the rebel-held enclave of Daraa.

Launched on June 19 after attempted negotiations with rebels broke down, Syrian troops are targeting the Daraa, Quneitra, Sweida Governorates for recapture.

The very center of the Arab Spring uprising against Assad’s rule, Daraa has been under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) since the 2011 rebellion began.

An area of strategic importance for Assad and the FSA, the Daraa Governorate is also a region sensitive for its location bordering both Jordan and Israel.

Launched on Sunday, air attacks conducted by both Syrian and Russian air forces have reportedly pounded the city, killing over 90 civilians.  Among the dead are women and children.

According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 58 pro-government troops and 49 rebel fighters have been killed since the air offensive resumed.  45,000 civilians are also believed to have fled the city.

As the bombing escalated, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (USSOM) said a medical center in Busr Al Harir was nearly completely destroyed, but no injuries were reported.

Amid the bombing, rights groups appealed for a suspension to the aerial assault, which, according to The Washington Post, has targeted and destroyed three hospitals in Wednesday evening attacks.

In conjunction with the bombing, Syrian helicopters are reported to have dropped barrel bombs along with propaganda leaflets warning both rebel forces and civilians the Syrian army expected to launch a ground offensive against the city.

Map showing control of south-western Syria (27 June 2018)

After two days of airstrikes, Syrian troops embarked on a ground assault against rebel forces, reportedly taking Basr al-Harir and Mlehat al-Atash to the northeast of Daraa city.

Despite the size and the scope of the offensive, the onslaught arrives at a time in which the Kremlin announced it had withdrawn over 1,000 military personnel and 30 aircraft from the war-torn nation.

In the middle of this new phase in the seven-year Syrian civil war, Jordan has warned it is unable to absorb further civilians displaced by the conflict and Israel has cautioned Damascus and warring factions it will do what is necessary to defend its territorial integrity.

 

[Al Jazerra] [Washington Post] [Sputnik] [Haaretz] [Photo courtesy AFP via BBC]

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