Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the Daraa province countryside during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 27, 2018.
Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the Daraa province countryside during airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on June 27, 2018.

GENEVA - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein warned of a humanitarian "catastrophe" Friday in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa if the fighting continues to escalate between Russian-backed Syrian forces and armed rebels.

The U.N. said thousands of people are fleeing the fighting but warned civilians caught in the violence are likely to be trapped in the governorate because Jordan has closed its border, cutting off their main escape route.

Liz Throssell, the high commissioner’s spokeswoman, told VOA the developments are cause for great concern.

시리아 남부 다라주에서 28일 주민들ì
FILE - People flee violence in Daraa, southern Syria, in this June 28, 2018 photo provided by Nabaa Media, a Syrian opposition media outlet.

“The real concern is that we are going to see a repetition of what we saw in eastern Ghouta: the bloodshed, the suffering, the civilians being held, being under a siege. …The civilians basically caught between the two sides. And, that is a real great concern that people will end up unable to escape bombardments and shelling and ground and airstrikes," she said.

Throssell said several government checkpoints in parts of Daraa reportedly are extorting hundreds of dollars from civilians to allow them to pass. She said her office has received reports that Islamic State fighters, in control of the Yarmouk Basin area in the western part of Daraa governorate, are not allowing civilians to leave the areas.

As the fighting rages, rebels controlling several towns in Daraa's eastern countryside are considering an agreement for a regime change in exchange for an end to the fierce bombing by Russian-backed government forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria's state news agency, SANA, reported the rebels had already agreed to a regime takeover over the past two days.

A Syrian military commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters the army's advance gave rebels "no choice" but to surrender.

"The terrorist groups are heading toward settlement and reconciliation," the commander said.

The U.N. human rights office has documented at least 46 civilian deaths, including children, since fighting erupted 11 days ago.  The agency believes the true figure is probably higher.

Lisa Schlein in Geneva contributed to this report.

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