Russia to move 1,000 from de-escalation zone in southern Syria

Announcement came after relocation plan halted by continued clashes

Smoke rises above eastern rebel-held areas of the city of Daraa during reported airstrikes by Syrian regime forces on July 8, 2018. Syrian army soldiers burned a rebel flag Saturday after they and Russian military police took over the crucial Nassib post on the border with Jordan. After launching a devastating offensive in Syria's southern region of Daraa on June 19, the forces of Damascus and Moscow were finally in charge of one of their main strategic targets -- the frontier crossing with Jordan. / AFP / Mohamad ABAZEED

The Russian military plans to move as many as 1,000 people from the south-western de-escalation zone in Syria through a 'humanitarian corridor' near the city of Deraa, Interfax news agency reported on Monday, citing Russia's Centre for Reconciliation in Syria.

People will be moved to northern Idlib province, the centre said.

The number of villages and towns that have joined the truce in south-western Syria has risen to 90, Russia's RIA state news agency reported on Monday, citing the Centre for Reconciliation.

Opposition campaigners reported that a number of rebel commanders had opted to flee to Jordan rather than participate in reconciliation efforts.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army and allied troops on Monday laid siege to the holdout rebel-held enclave in Deraa and were poised to gain complete control of the city where the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad's rule first erupted, rebels said.

Abu Shaima, a spokesman for the opposition in the southern Syrian city, said several thousand people were now encircled after the army pushed into a main base west of the city without a fight before a formal evacuation of rebels opposed to a Russian-brokered surrender deal.

"The army and its militias have besieged Deraa completely," the rebel spokesman told Reuters.

A deal was reached on Friday between Russian officers and rebel representatives that surrendered Deraa city along with other towns in the southern province that borders Jordan in another victory for Mr Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

Opposition fighters not ready to make peace with the army must first be allowed to evacuate to opposition-held areas in northern Syria before the hand over of weapons and the return of state sovereignty.

The rebels say the deal also does not allow the army to move into their bastions and allows for setting up local forces from ex-rebels under the oversight of Russian military police.

"There is a lot of fear about the unknown fate and we do not trust the Russians or regime," Mr Shaima added.

In other parts of the deal, Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels who once received Western support continued to hand over border posts along the frontier with Jordan, east of Deraa province, that it had been in control of since the early days of the conflict.

The army and its militias won a strategic victory after they captured Nassib crossing, the vital trade route that rebels held for three years.