The UN warned of mounting civilian carnage and suffering in and around Deraa on Thursday amid escalating clashes between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in the southern Syrian city.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the city, close to the Jordanian border, had been rocked by intense fighting and indiscriminate shelling since government troops and rebels resumed hostilities at the end of July.
“The stark picture emerging from Deraa Al Balad and other neighbourhoods underscores how much at risk civilians there are, repeatedly exposed to fighting and violence, and in effect under siege,” said Ms Bachelet.
Syrian government forces in recent weeks tightened restrictions on roads into the neighbourhood of Deraa Al Balad, a former opposition stronghold and an early scene of protest against President Bashar Al Assad’s rule in early 2011.
Residents of the ancient city, located on the strategic Damascus-Amman motorway, face “checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets and their property is being seized and stolen”, Ms Bachelet said.
Rebels launched counter-attacks against government forces and routed them from some military posts, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground, said this week.
They reportedly captured dozens of government soldiers, leading to the most serious clashes the region has seen since Russia brokered a tenuous deal between the two sides in 2018.
More than 18,000 civilians have fled Deraa Al Balad since the end of July, many of them moving into nearby schools, the UN said. Government forces have occupied homes, whole families have been wiped out in shell attacks and mortars have damaged a hospital.
Across the Deraa region, more than 101 civilians were killed in drive-by shootings and other targeted attacks carried out by unknown perpetrators in the first seven months of the year, the UN Human Rights Office said.
“There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Deraa,” added Ms Bachelet.
The province became known as the cradle of the revolt against Mr Al Assad's government that erupted during the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Syrian government troops retook the area in 2018 in a Russian-brokered deal that let some opposition fighters retain control of the province.
The president has since retaken control of most of the country, backed by Russian and Iranian firepower.