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Home / World / Syrian army wins in the southwest, rebels speak peace terms AMMAN / BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian army seized more cities in the southwest on Saturday than air strikes on others who still resisted the rapid offensive, and rebels said they were negotiating the allied Russia.

Syrian army wins in the southwest, rebels speak peace terms AMMAN / BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian army seized more cities in the southwest on Saturday than air strikes on others who still resisted the rapid offensive, and rebels said they were negotiating the allied Russia.



AMMAN / BEIRUT (Reuters) Peace conditions.

Smoke rises from the southeastern part of Deraa, Syria, in this issue on June 27, 2018. SANA / Handout via REUTERS

State television broadcast from the city of Dael, northwest of the city of Deraa, following the army's invasion, and a war monitor reported that several cities farther east had also accepted governance.

Rebels expected another meeting with Russian officers on Saturday to negotiate a deal for the return of Syrian state sovereignty across the entire Deraa province, a rebel spokesman said.

The airstrikes continued in the meantime, said the Syrian Human Rights Observatory on an offensive that drove 1

60,000 people out of their homes and threatened a humanitarian catastrophe, according to the United Nations.

Russia, the strongest advocate of the Syrian government, has supported the army's support of air strikes since joining the war in 2015 and has played a role in brokering surrender deals.

Southwestern Syria is one of the two remaining rebel strongholds, along with a region in the northwest sworn by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to retake. He also wants to take control of territories in northeastern Syria, which are held by the US-backed Kurdish troops.

The army's offensive follows the capitulation of the rebel enclaves near Homs and Damascus, including eastern Ghouta, recaptured after a scorched earth attack that killed more than a thousand civilians and devastated several cities.

Southern-Western warfare could risk further escalation because of its proximity to Israel. The Israelis have already attacked the Iran-backed militias that are fighting on Assad's side, and who swore they were far from the borders of their country.

The government's offensive has so far concentrated on the province of Deraa, which borders on Jordan, but not on the province of Quneitra, which borders on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The deal being discussed does not include Quneitra, the rebels said.

The entire southwest is part of a "de-escalation zone" agreed last year by Russia, the US and Jordan. Despite Washington's threats to respond to violations of this agreement, it has not shown any signs of it, and the opposition's chief negotiator on Thursday accused them of having signed a "malicious deal" to keep silent.

NEGOTIATIONS

Insurgent negotiators and a spokesman said that a six-member Civil and Military Committee of the Southern Rebels held a preparatory meeting along the administrative boundaries of the neighboring province of Sweida.

"The committee held its first meeting with Russian officers who made their demands," said Ibrahim Jabawi, a spokesman for the central operating room set up by main groups of the Free Syrian Army in southern Syria.

But the Russian negotiators had not arrived a few hours after the start of another meeting on Saturday, Jabawi said.

Jordan has facilitated talks between rebel groups and Moscow about an agreement that would end violence in exchange for the return of state rule in the province of Deraa on its border.

The Russian negotiators demanded that the rebels accept conditions such as Ghouta's east, where insurgents either went with their families to the north-west opposition area or accepted the return of state power, Jabawi said.

The southwestern rebels did not accept this and instead proposed the return of civilian state institutions in the opposition areas and the entry of the Russian military police instead of the Syrian government forces.

The army has already conquered large parts of the eastern zone of the rebellious territory in the province of Deraa in less than two weeks of fighting, and several other cities that are still in the hands of the insurgents have reportedly agreed to join Settle Assad.

On Saturday, state television said the city of Al-Ghariya al-Sharqiya had accepted a "reconciliation" agreement with the government and that the national flag had been raised there.

It was broadcast live from the city of Dael, where a crowd was sung with slogans in support of Assad and the army.

State television said Friday that four nearby cities had agreed to spend their weapons and accept state rule. The army has gained control of the cities of al-Harak, Ibta and Rakham, a rebel said opposition lines in an area had collapsed.

The observatory said the Russian military police had entered several other towns and villages to end their rebellion against Assad.

Combat aircraft were reported to make 32 air strikes overnight when the offensive continued and hit nine cities in Deraa province. So far, about 100 civilians have been killed in air raids and shelling since June 19, it said.

Clashes escalated around the city of Deraa, which lies near the border with Jordan, and where army advances could cut the insurgent territory in the southwest into two parts, it said.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, edited by Larry King and Catherine Evans


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