AMMAN / BEIRUT (Reuters) – A number of Syrian cities and villages held in rebels accepted government rule on Saturday. In parts of the Southwest, the insurgents fell under heavy bombardment of the United Nations to 160,000 people.
The southwest was an early hotbed of rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad and the defeat there would leave rebels with only one remaining fortress – the area around the Idlib province bordering Turkey to the northwest.
Rebels met with Russian negotiators on Saturday to seek peace terms for the Deraa province, which is home to most of their southwestern territory, but said they had failed. Moscow is Assad's strongest ally, and his Air Force since 201
Local groups in many cities confiscated by the army in recent days had negotiated their own surrender operations after heavy air raids, regardless of the rebels' main laboratories.
The state television broadcast footage from the cities of Dael and al-Ghariya al-Gharbiya, where people were chanting pro-Assad slogans. A war monitor and a military media unit led by the Allied Hezbollah government said many other towns and villages had agreed to return under Assad's rule.
In the area around Deraa, near the Jordanian border, fierce fighting was still raging, with the army attempting to occupy a disused air force base, rebels said, and the northwestern part of Deraa province remains in opposition.
Air strikes intensified in the meantime, the Monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said as displaced people poured into the border areas that could be hit hardest and warned the United Nations of a humanitarian disaster.
After the failed peace talks on Saturday, bombers launched a new wave of attacks on the rebel-held cities of Bosra al-Sham, al-Nuaima and other areas, the Observatory reported, resulting in deaths, injuries and damage.
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.
War in the Southwest could risk further escalation because of its proximity to Israel. The Israelis have already attacked Iran-backed militias fighting on Assad's side, 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 the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
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.
Insurgent negotiators had held meetings with Russia to seek an agreement for the entire Deraa province to return to governmental sovereignty, but without the army or police entering the area.
Talks in the town of Bosra al-Sham, whose Roman citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, collapsed on Saturday when insurgents rejected proposed conditions for their surrender, a rebel spokesman 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 those agreed for East Ghouta. Insurgents have either gone with their families in the opposition area in the northwest or have accepted the return of state power, said Jabawi.
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 conquered large parts of the eastern zone of the rebel territory in the province of Deraa in less than two weeks after the offensive.
In the east of Deraa, the army took control of al-Ghariya al-Sharqiya and al-Ghariya al-Gharbiya and Um Walad after taking al-Harak, Busra al-Harir and surrounding areas in recent days ,
In the west of Deraa, the army has regained control of the cities of Dael and Ibta. There were conflicting reports about whether it had also won the areas of al-Musayfra and Kuheil in eastern Deraa and Tafas, al-Muzairib and Sheikh Saad in western Deraa.
The Observatory reported that fighter planes made 32 air strikes overnight when the offensive continued and hit nine cities in the province of Deraa. So far, about 100 civilians have been killed in air raids and shelling since June 19, it said.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Angus McDowall, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Catherine Evans