After a two-week Syrian government offensive, rebels have agreed to a negotiated surrender in the southern Daraa province near Jordan, opposition and state media confirmed.
In a statement issued on Friday, July 6, the joint opposition operations room for southern Syria said rebels agreed to a deal that includes their “gradual” surrender of heavy and medium weapons.
Negotiations had stalled Wednesday after Russia “insisted” rebel groups surrender their heavy weapons immediately, joint command spokesperson Ibrahim Jabbawi told AFP.
“The deal was the best we could achieve to save the lives of our fighters,” Hussein Abazeed, a rebel spokesperson, told AFP on Friday.
The Syrian government’s campaign in Daraa is part of a broader offensive aimed at reclaiming the southwest region from rebel control. The area has faced intense air strikes from Russian and government forces in recent weeks.
Neighboring Quneitra province remains under rebel control for now despite also being the target of recent airstrikes.
— ETANA Syria (@ETANA_Syria) July 6, 2018
State-run news agency SANA said Friday that the Syrian government, not Russia, had reached the deal with the rebels.
All areas along the Syrian-Jordanian border will be under the direct control of Syrian government forces, SANA reported. Other areas within Daraa are slated as “reconciliation areas.”
As part of the agreement, Russia will also ensure that displaced Syrians in the region will be allowed to safely return to their homes, the joint opposition statement said.
An exit route for those who wish to relocate to Idlib will also be opened as part of the agreement, keeping with the terms of previous deals between the government and rebels.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have retaken control of the Nasib border crossing to Jordan, a valuable trade artery, SANA reported Friday. The border crossing had been under rebel control for more than three years.
Pro-regime forces have moved in to a number of rebel areas in recent days, doubling their territory in Daraa governorate to around 60 percent after rebel groups agreed to the Russian offer in exchange for an end to the aerial bombardment.
More than 320,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting in Syria’s southwest, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Thursday. Both Israel – which controls the neighboring Golan Heights region – and Jordan have refused to open their borders to displaced Syrians, drawing criticism from the UNHCR and rights groups.