Intensified pro-government bombardment hits Daraa border region after Russian-brokered negotiations fall through

The Daraa town of Saida after pro-government airstrikes on Wednesday. Photo by Mohamad Abazeed/AFP.

AMMAN: Renewed pro-government airstrikes, missiles and shelling struck opposition-held towns along Syria’s southwestern border with Jordan on Thursday, threatening tens of thousands of displaced people seeking safety from a widening government offensive.

Thursday’s bombings followed the “failure” of the latest negotiations between representatives of Syrian opposition factions and a Russian delegation in the Daraa town of Busra a-Sham on Wednesday, a commander with the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-aligned Southern Front told Syria Direct on Thursday. The commander spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.  

When the negotiations to end a nearly three-week-old pro-government offensive against opposition factions in southwestern Syria’s Daraa province fell through, Russian and pro-government forces “began to target residential villages with airstrikes, barrel bombs, mortar shells and missiles,” the commander said.

The Daraa-based, pro-opposition Houran Free League (HFL) media outlet documented at least 30 airstrikes and 74 barrel bombs across rebel-held areas of Daraa since Wednesday afternoon, the director of the outlet’s documentation center, Abu Hussein Sharaf, told Syria Direct on Thursday.

In the east Daraa town of Saida, six members of a single family were killed during the latest wave of pro-government bombings, HFL and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

“They’re trying to put pressure on us to accept any conditions by targeting civilians,” the Southern Front commander said.

Syrian state media reported army operations against what it called “terrorist” targets in Daraa Thursday. 

Displaced Daraa residents in a camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Nabaa Media.

Several towns just across the border from Jordan in Daraa province were among those struck by pro-government airstrikes and shelling over the past 24 hours, local Civil Defense volunteer Abu Muhammad told Syria Direct from a-Taybeh, a town located approximately 4km from the Jordanian border. A-Taybeh was one of the border towns reportedly hit on Thursday.

Other targets included the town of Nasib and the Free Zone, an area adjoining the strategic Nasib/Jaber border crossing to which at least 60,000 people have been displaced in recent weeks, according to United Nations figures released on Monday.

As many as 200,000 displaced people are seeking safety along the length of Daraa’s southern border with Jordan, Ameen Marzouqi, the local director of the opposition’s Department of Statistics and Administrative Affairs, told Syria Direct on Thursday. Another 230,000 have fled westward to the border strip between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, he said.   

Both borders remain closed to those fleeing the violence in southwestern Syria. Meanwhile displaced Syrians are struggling to find food, shelter, potable water and now safety from bombardment, as pro-government forces continue to press attacks on multiple fronts against the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s south.

In its latest advances against Daraa’s rebels, the Syrian army entered the town of Saida following “fierce clashes” with rebels there, state media reported on Thursday.

As clashes raged on Thursday, opposition factions reiterated their commitment to finding a solution for the fighting in the south through negotiation despite having rejected an earlier Russian demand to surrender arms during talks the previous day.

“We are not opposed to honorable negotiation that guarantees our rights and leads to a period of peace and stability,” the opposition negotiating body said in a statement published to its Twitter account. “But we will not negotiate while threatened.”

With additional reporting by Fatima Abdallah.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting. Follow Waleed on Twitter: @walid_ALnofal.

Avery Edelman

Avery Edelman graduated from Tufts University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in Arabic and International Relations. Follow Avery on Twitter: @averyedelman.