Regime Forces Violate De-Escalation Zone Deal in Daraa

Rebel forces also thwarted an ISIS attack, according to Zaman al-Wasl

Syrian regime warplanes carried out four raids on the eastern countryside of Daraa province, in a new violation of the U.S.-Russia-brokered de-escalation agreement, local activists said Thursday.

Daraa-based activist Diaa al-Hariri told Zaman al-Wasl that no casualties were reported in the aerial attack on the southern province, amid a state of panic that forced some families to flee their areas.

The southern area around Daraa province is one of the main parts of the country where large populations are still under the control of rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

This week, the U.S. Embassy in Amman warned the key rebel alliance in Daraa of taking any military action against the regime forces that might undermine the de-escalation zone agreement, a Saudi daily reported.

According to the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, a letter was sent by the U.S. Embassy in Amman to the Southern Front, in which the embassy asserted that rebels should refrain from giving the regime army any pretext to end the cease-fire agreement which was reached last July.

The warnings to the Southern Front coincide with the regime's mobilization at the gate of Daraa in preparation for launching a sweeping attack on the city.

Sources told Zaman al-Wasl last March that Russia had warned the regime against launching any attack on rebels in southern Syria, saying it will not provide aerial backup if regime insists on violating the cease-fire deal.

Commanders from the Russian army met with regime military officers in the 9th Division base in Al-Sanamayn town, where they delivered a message saying no offensive is welcome against rebels in southern Daraa province, according to the sources.

Russia, which backs the Assad regime, and the United States, which has backed rebel forces seeking to topple the president, met secretly in Jordan in June and announced a cease-fire in Syria's southwest a month later.

The truce reduced fighting there and was meant to lead to a longer-lasting de-escalation, a step towards a full settlement.

Rebels have long feared the regime army will return to attack them once it has consolidated gains in the north and other areas. Rebels say the de-escalation zones free up the Syrian army to make territorial gains elsewhere.

Also in Daraa, Jaish Khaled bin Walid, an Islamic State (ISIS) branch in southern Syria, has launched an attack on rebel bastions in the western countryside of Daraa city, killing six rebel fighters.

Activist Abdullah al-Shami said rebels thwarted the pre-dawn attack on the town of Sheikh Saad and the Masaken Jileen suburb in the Yarmouk Basin, leaving 15 ISIS militants dead.

Several skirmishes have been reported in last few months between the small jihadist faction and rebels.

Jaish Khaled bin Walid was formed in May 2016, and is an alliance of several jihadist groups, the largest of them the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which is listed by Washington as a terrorist group.

The militant group seeks to open a corridor for fellow fighters who seek to flee the last ISIS pockets in the southern neighborhoods of Damascus.

Well-informed sources said Thursday that senior ISIS commanders have fled southern suburbs of Damascus to Daraa, as regime forces shelled their last pockets in the capital, preparing the ground for a possible assault on the militant stronghold.

Sources said a smuggling network related to the Syrian regime and intelligence services has been facilitating the move of ISIS commanders.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Jaish Khaled bin Walid is estimated to have some 1,200 fighters, and controls territory in western Daraa province, along the border with the occupied Golan Heights.

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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