Rebel offensive puts ceasefire at risk
SYRIA: A ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia two months ago is fraying along Syria’s southern border, as rebel forces launch their largest offensive in the area in more than a year.
Monitors, activists and an aid group said fighting raged for a fourth day yesterday between opposition and pro-government forces in the southern city of Daraa, pushing the number of dead and wounded past 60.
A nationwide ceasefire has largely held since late December, when President Bashar al-Assad’s forces recaptured the flashpoint northern city of Aleppo. That victory brought what remained of the armed opposition to a crisis point, bolstering the hand of its Turkish backers to negotiate a truce with one of the Syrian government’s staunchest allies, Russia.
But rebel guns had been largely silent in southern Syria for more than a year, constrained by infighting and the directives of the fighters’ powerful Jordanian backers across the border.
In an unusual development for Syria’s tangled conflict, the rebel offensive in Daraa appears to have been launched without international support. The fighters began pushing through the southwestern district of Manshiyah on Monday, detonating car bombs and at least one powerful tunnel bomb.
According to activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring network, the government has carried out intense air strikes in response.
Medics said at least 25 people had been killed in the fighting, six of them from a single family. Thousands have fled the area, many seeking refuge on farmland and orchards.
Activists defended the fighting, insisting that the offensive would bring a much-needed ‘‘morale boost’’ ahead of peace talks scheduled for February 23 in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. Although an earlier round of talks ended inconclusively, it is hoped that the new meetings will pave the way for a resumption of a peace process brokered by the United Nations.
Men inspect a damaged house after an air strike on al-Yadouda village, near Deraa, during fresh fighting between rebels and the Syrian regime.