Thousands of civilians have fled rebel-held regions in and around Syria’s southern city of Daraa, as government forces intensify their offensive to regain territory with heavy shelling and powerful airstrikes. Daraa is the city where Syria's bloody and protracted civil war began in March 2011.
Arab media showed amateur video of powerful airstrikes by Syrian government warplanes and Russian fighter jets during the past 24 hours in the Daraa region in the south of the country. The nearby rebel-held town of Busra al Harir was pounded heavily, according to rebel sources.
Syrian state TV claimed the Syrian Army was intensifying its offensive against the areas around Daraa in order to restore control over the region and stop rebel shelling of government-held areas.
The BBC Arabic service and Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV claimed that more than 14,000 civilians have fled government attacks during the past four days. Amateur video showed civilians pitching tents and cooking on open fires. VOA could not independently confirm the figures.
Syrian government TV also accused rebel groups, including the al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al Nusra of targeting government mediation efforts to bring about reconciliation with rebel-held towns in the Daraa area.
Analyst Mahmoud Abdel Salam claimed rebel groups had “harassed or killed a number of tribal mediators, in order to hamper reconciliation efforts.”
American University of Beirut Political Science Professor Hilal Khashan tells VOA he thinks one of the chief objectives of the government offensive is to reopen Syria’s main border crossing with Jordan, which has been closed for several years:
“One of the objectives of the offensive is to head directly to the Jordanian border and reopen the (main) border crossing, with the understanding that the Syrian Army will not come close to the (1973) ceasefire line on the Golan (Heights),” said Khashan.
Khashan said that he believes both Israel and Russia have reached an understanding over the current offensive and the deal has the blessing of the Trump administration. He says Jordan also would like to reopen its border crossing with Syria “to improve its difficult financial situation.”
Syria’s seven-year-old civil war began in Daraa in March 2011, after a number of teenage boys were killed by the government after writing anti-Assad graffiti on walls inside the city.