Rebel of­fen­sive puts cease­fire at risk

The Press - - World -

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.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Men in­spect a dam­aged house af­ter an air strike on al-Yadouda vil­lage, near Deraa, dur­ing fresh fight­ing be­tween rebels and the Syrian regime.

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