By Thomson Reuters Foundation – Jul 02,2018 – JORDAN TIMES
Syrians wait at the border areas near Jordan after they fled from the ongoing military operations by the Assad regime and its allies in Syria’s Daraa on Saturday (Anadolu Agency photo)
AMMAN/BEIRUT — Jordan stepped in to try to avert further violence and stem another wave of displacement across its border with Syria on Sunday, mediating new talks between rebels and the Syrian government’s main ally Russia for a truce in the southwest.
Talks on Saturday broke down as the army seized more ground in its offensive, with insurgent lines in some areas collapsing, and a string of towns and villages accepting the return of government rule after intense bombardment.
Discussions on Sunday were difficult, said diplomatic sources familiar with the talks. Opposition negotiators said they would only accept a deal that made Jordan a guarantor for the safety of Deraa province’s 800,000 civilians and added that continued air strikes during the talks undermined trust in the process.
Fighting and bombardment had calmed overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, but reignited on Sunday around Tafas, northwest of Deraa, along with heavy air attacks.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offensive in the southwest aims to reclaim one of two remaining rebel strongholds in Syria, the other being Idlib and adjacent areas in the northwest. Assad’s forces captured the last enclaves near Damascus and Homs earlier this year.
Southwest Syria is a “de-escalation zone” of reduced warfare and bombardment agreed by Russia, Jordan and the United States last year. Washington warned it would respond to violations of this agreement, but has done nothing so far. Last week, rebels said the United States had told them not to expect any American military support.
The opposition’s chief negotiator in wider UN peace talks, Nasr Al Hariri, last week accused the United States of complicity in Assad’s southwest offensive, saying American silence could only be explained by “a malicious deal”.
Peace talks in the town of Bosra Al Sham, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, failed on Saturday when insurgents rejected Russian terms for their surrender, but began again on Sunday under the auspices of Jordan, rebel spokesman Ibrahim Al Jabawi said.
A military media unit run by the government’s Lebanese ally Hizbollah, and a Syrian state television correspondent said rebels in Bosra Al Sham had agreed to come back under government rule and were starting to surrender their weapons.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the Kingdom was engaged in intensive diplomacy with all parties in the conflict to help broker a ceasefire that would ease the plight of displaced civilians.
“We are moving in all directions and with all the parties to bring a ceasefire and protect civilians,” he said in a Tweet on Saturday.
“The Russian insistence on attempting to impose conditions, their unreadiness to stop the air strikes during negotiations, all this gives us more reason for lack of trust and justified fear,” said Adnan Masalmeh, a coordinator of an opposition committee steering the negotiators.
Air strikes have pounded the region since the offensive ramped up two weeks ago, causing at least 160,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
On Saturday, at least ten civilians were killed when bombs were dropped on the rebel-held village of Ghasam, relief workers said. The observatory says more than 100 civilians have been killed since an escalation in fighting on June 19.
Southwest Syria was an early hotbed of the uprising against Assad in 2011 that morphed into the seven-year conflict that has cost over half a million lives and pushed half the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Until Assad’s offensive began this month, its front lines had been mostly stable. However, the army has now taken much of the eastern side of the rebel territory there and forced two large towns on the western side, Dael and Ibta, to accept deals to come back under state rule.
That pattern of local groups in towns and villages agreeing deals with the government independently of the main rebel factions has been repeated in locations across the southwest.
On Sunday, the army entered the areas of Al Musayfra, Kuheil and Al Sahwa after striking agreements with their inhabitants, the Observatory said.