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Syrian Troops Advance in Daraa


Children ride on a truck with belongings in Deraa countryside, Syria, June 22, 2018.

Syrian forces have advanced against rebels in the province of Daraa, in their first gain since Tuesday.

Reports by both state media and opposition activists Saturday said shelling and clashes were focused on the countryside in the eastern part of the province and the western side of neighboring Sweida province.

This was the fifth day of an escalation that saw Syrian troops take two villages in Daraa — Al-Bustan and Al-Shumariya — earlier this week.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 civilians had died since the escalation, along with 13 government troops and at least 10 rebel fighters.

Also Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Washington. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the two men agreed to prioritize humanitarian aid in Syria, as well as in Yemen.

Guterres released a separate statement on Syria, saying he was "gravely concerned by the recent military escalation, including ground offensives and aerial bombardments, in southwestern Syria."

“The attacks have resulted in the displacement of thousands of civilians, the majority of whom are moving towards the Jordanian border. The secretary-general is also concerned at the significant risks these offensives pose to regional security,” the statement said.

FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres give a statement after delivering a speech.
FILE - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres give a statement after delivering a speech.

Guterres has called for “an immediate end to the current military escalation and urges all stakeholders to respect their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

Jordan brokered a cease-fire agreement in southern Syria between the U.S. and Russia in July 2017.

But the Syrian government has not agreed to the de-escalation agreement, despite the fact that its ally, Russia, was a party to the deal. The Syrian government continues to drop leaflets in the area giving armed opposition two choices — surrender or die.

After the gains achieved by the Syrian government, with support from Russia and Iran in recapturing swaths of land from rebel groups in 2017, the three allies shifted attention to the remaining territories in the south.

Sergey Lavrov, Russian minister of foreign affairs, said last May that the Syrian government should be in control of its borders, adding that all foreign forces must withdraw from the southern borders.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement earlier this month expressing its concerns about the escalation by the Syrian government in the southwest, warning of “firm and appropriate measures” against the Syrian government’s violation of a cease-fire, and holding Russia responsible for compelling the Syrian government to stick to the agreement.

“The cease-fire must continue to be enforced and respected,” the statement said.