CAIRO - Syrian government forces appear to have consolidated control over a handful of villages in the region of Daraa, near Jordan, in an apparent bid to reopen the Nasib border crossing, an economic lifeline for Damascus. Media reports say Syrian government forces now control a border checkpoint with Jordan "for the first time in three years."
Opposition analyst Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed in an interview Thursday with the BBC Arabic service that Russian warplanes and Syrian government fighter jets had "conducted 870 air raids over southern Syrian towns and villages." Arab media said he called the raids "hysterical."
A rebel commander in the village of Tafas claimed in an amateur video that his men were continuing to resist five days of government attacks on the village.
Tafas is along the road leading to the Nasib border crossing between Syria and Jordan. Efforts by Russian mediators to negotiate a cease-fire there reportedly failed.
Amateur video from the town of Saida purported to show at least half a dozen dead children, who rebels claimed were killed in joint Russian-Syrian air raids on the town. VOA could not independently confirm the veracity of the video. Saida is a major crossroads town on the road leading to Jordan.
In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, an opposition negotiator, Khaled Mouhameed, claimed that Jordan would resume efforts to broker a cease-fire with the rebel commanders on Friday. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was in Moscow on Wednesday, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss Syria and other issues.
The U.N. reports that up to 320,000 people have fled towns and villages around Daraa due to the ongoing fighting between government forces and various rebel factions. Jordan has closed its border to those who have been fleeing the violence.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA he thinks both the Russians and the Syrian government are eager to "consolidate gains over the south of Syria before [U.S. President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin meet" on July 25 in Helsinki.
He says the military operation to retake southern Syria is the final chapter in the liquidation of the Syrian revolution, and he thinks it is part of a broader agreement between the U.S., Israel and Russia to chase Iran and its militia allies from the southern corner of the country. He does not, however, believe it is possible to do so, arguing that Iran is "present at every level of the Syrian military apparatus."
Reuters news agency reported Thursday that allies of the Syrian government in Lebanon are claiming that Hezbollah is participating in the operation to recapture southern Syria for the government.
Joshua Landis, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma, tells VOA he thinks "Hezbollah will play an advisory role," but the "Syrian government has every incentive to take control of the [border with Israel]," which is close to the Jordanian border as well, "and not to allow Iran or Hezbollah to control Syria's foreign policy by going to war with Israel on the border."