Thousands flee Assad regime offensive in southern Syria

Some reportedly take shelter near border with Jordan and Israel

A Russian troop carrier in the southern Syrian district of Deraa Al Balad on August 24, 2021, before fighting flared up between rebels and Syrian regime forces. Photo: AFP
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Thousands of people fled opposition areas under regime bombing in southern Syria on Monday as forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad expanded an offensive against a rebel enclave, witnesses said.

Some families fleeing their homes in the countryside near the city of Daraa headed to the Yarmouk River Valley near the border of Jordan and Israel, they said.

The refugee flows could complicate a wider regional dimension to the conflict in southern Syria that has affected Russia’s posture in the area.

Moscow had allowed rebels to keep districts in the south outside the control of Damascus.

This contrasted with other areas in Syria in which Russia’s military intervention in 2015 restored full regime control.

A three-year “de-escalation” deal in the south, supervised by Moscow, collapsed last month, with clashes centering on the opposition district of Daraa Al Balad.

Faisal Aba Zeid, a civil opposition leader, said several hundred fighters in the city “are holding” against army and militia attempts to advance.

“We are waiting for support from the countryside,” he said by voice message from in Daraa Al Balad.

The district is part of the city of Daraa, birthplace of the 2011 revolt against five decades of Assad family rule.

A video on the official Syrian news agency website purportedly showed “army units targeting terrorist rocket launch pads in Daraa Al Balad”.

“The terrorist groups intensified in the last few days their repeated aggression against the residential areas to sabotage any peaceful solution,” the agency said.

Attacks by the regime’s military and militias allied with Iran spread significantly on Monday, with clashes reported around several villages and towns in the countryside, opposition sources in Amman said.

At least 10 people were reported killed in the southern opposition areas in the past 24 hours.

Raed Qutaifan, a resident of the town of Tafas, 10 kilometres north of Daraa, said there was “a large wave of displacement” from the town after regime shelling was reported on the nearby town of Nawa.

“People are mainly heading to areas west of Daraa all the way to the Yarmouk River,” Mr Qutaifan said in a text message.

“The regime’s army is restricted in what it can do near Jordan and Israel.”

Rebels in Daraa have resisted for four weeks a deal from Russia under which some of them would be expelled to areas near Turkey and the rest submit to the regime to avoid an attack.

Updated: August 30, 2021, 6:02 PM