Daraa, regarded as the birthplace of Syria’s 2011 uprising and held for years by opposition forces, was returned to government control in 2018 under a previous Moscow-backed ceasefire that had allowed rebels to stay in some areas of the province.
But since late July local armed groups have exchanged artillery fire with government forces and the regime has imposed a crippling siege on Daraa city’s southern district of Daraa al-Balad, seen as a hub for former rebels.
Last week, rebels began evacuating Daraa al-Balad as part of a new Russian-brokered truce agreement, but new clashes have significantly undermined the deal, with battles raging in several parts of the province on Monday.
The official SANA news agency said that an attack by opposition fighters on army checkpoints in Daraa killed four soldiers and wounded 15.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that regime forces had increased artillery attacks on Daraa al-Balad earlier in the day.
Monday’s artillery fire was “unprecedented”, the monitor said, reporting an escalation as opposition fighters tried to repel an attempt by regime forces to storm the district.
At least one civilian and one opposition fighter were killed, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
An opposition-affiliated Daraa committee on Sunday said the truce “has collapsed” because of Syrian regime violations and a government’s insistence on enforcing strict terms not recognized in the initial deal.
For its part, the Syrian government says violations by opposition fighters are undermining ceasefire efforts.
According to the Observatory, the original truce agreement would see around 100 rebels leave Daraa al-Balad for northern Syria, with remaining fighters surrendering their weapons.
In exchange, the government would end attacks and lift a siege that has seen some 40,000 people face water and power cuts as well as food and medical shortages.
More than 50 rebels have been transferred from Daraa as part of the deal, according to the Observatory, but there was no sign on Monday that the evacuations would continue.
The United Nations said last week that the latest escalation had forced some 38,000 people to flee over the past month.