Syrian army steps up offensive in troubled southern city of Daraa

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Syrian forces stepped up shelling of an opposition enclave in the southern city of Daraa in an attempt to take control of an area that has defied state authority since it was recaptured three years ago, witnesses, the military and residents said.

An army attack on the old quarter of Daraa was dealt a blow on Thursday as opposition fighters launched a counter-offensive across the province, capturing dozens of troops.

The military has since sent hundreds of elite troops, dozens of tanks and armored vehicles to storm the enclave where peaceful protests against the Assad family’s rule began in 2011 and were fought with deadly force before spreading across the country.

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The fighters disrupted traffic along the Damascus-Daraa highway that leads to the border with Jordan closed the crossing on Sunday.

The Syrian army, aided by Russian air forces and Iranian militias, regained control of the province bordering Jordan and the Israeli Golan Heights in 2018.

Russian brokered deals forced opposition fighters to surrender heavy weapons at the time, but they prevented the military from entering many cities, including the old quarter of the provincial capital known as Daraa al Balaad.

The Syrian army on Sunday accused what it called terrorists of foiling several rounds of negotiations with opposition figures since last week to allow the army to set up checkpoints in the enclave.

The opposition insists the agreement allows only civilian control, local officials say.

“The regime wants to end what they see as a living symbol of the insurgency against it. If they silence it by sending the army back, they will subjugate the entire Hauran region,” Abu Jehad al-Horani, an opposition official, told Reuters from the enclave.

Aid groups in Damascus said at least 2,000 families have fled their homes since the fighting started on Thursday.

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