A three-day ceasefire came into effect after weeks of intense attacks by pro-government forces against rebels in the city of Deraa.
A three-day ceasefire has been established in the besieged Syrian city of Deraa after weeks of intense attacks by pro-government forces in the rebel-held enclave, local sources told Al Jazeera.
The cessation of fighting was announced on Wednesday after Russian generals offered a new plan that appeared to satisfy some of the rebel demands to involve Russian military police in patrolling Deraa al-Balad, a district south of the city. of Deraa, while allowing it for the first time. a Syrian army security presence in the bastion.
The rebels said they accepted the plan, while the army said it would give its response on Wednesday to the deal, which also allows the Syrian and Russian flags to be hoisted at the opposition stronghold, but gives Moscow assurances that army units backed by Iran cannot act with impunity.
Army sources told the Reuters news agency that Iranian-backed troops that surrounded the rebel enclave for the past two months and brought in reinforcements on Monday would be withdrawn under the agreement.
The state news agency SANA reported that some rebels had started to surrender their weapons in Deraa al-Balad on Wednesday. He added that several government-run centers are expected to be open throughout the city for other rebels to hand over weapons and “resolve” any outstanding issues.
Meanwhile, Syrian independent news outlet Step News said those who reject the terms of the deal will be evacuated to the northwestern province of Idlib. It is the last opposition stronghold in the country where some three million people live, half of whom were displaced by previous government offensives in various areas of the country.
Elite Syrian forces with the help of pro-Iranian militias stepped up an offensive Tuesday against the rebel enclave in a southwestern pocket bordering Jordan and Israel, according to residents, military and opposition sources.
Fighting escalated earlier this week after the collapse of a Russian peace plan aimed at preventing an all-out offensive against Deraa al-Balad, the center of Deraa city that has defied state authority since the surrounding Deraa province it was recaptured by President Bashar al. -Assad’s forces in 2018.
Witnesses and military sources said that dozens of improvised missiles were fired at Deraa al-Balad by the Syrian army’s pro-Iranian Fourth Division, which is backed by local Iranian-funded militias.
Horrible humanitarian conditions
Deraa al-Balad was the birthplace of peaceful protests against al-Assad’s dictatorial government that erupted a decade ago, part of the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring, before spreading in response to deadly crackdowns by security forces. and morph into a devastating civil war. .
The latest army campaign came amid a series of attacks in the past 24 hours by remnants of rebel groups at checkpoints and army outposts in Dael, Jasem and other cities in Deraa province, they said. opposition sources and residents.
A Western intelligence source said that several thousand families in villages caught in the crossfire had fled to safer areas near the Jordanian border, where the Jordanian army was on alert for a possible new wave of refugees.
The Syrian army said that at least four soldiers were killed in ambushes against troops in the cities of Sanameen and Nawa, and rebel shelling caused several casualties in residential areas.
Earlier this week, UK-based Amnesty International call that the Syrian government end its siege of Deraa al-Balad and allow “unrestricted humanitarian access” to the area, where some 20,000 people live in extreme conditions.
Residents have told the human rights group that “only women and children under the age of 15 have been allowed to leave the besieged area on foot after being subjected to security checks and have been told to leave their identity cards. ”.
Others have said that stores are nearly “empty of all food” with reports of no power for extended periods.
Government forces, with the help of Russian airpower and Iranian militias, retaken Deraa province in 2018, and Moscow assured Israel and the United States at the time that it would prevent Iranian-backed militias from invading the border area. .
That deal forced thousands of Western-backed rebels to surrender heavy weapons, but prevented al-Assad’s forces from entering Deraa al-Balad, whose administration remained in the hands of the opposition.