Tuesday, 19 June 2018
'Syria’s southwest has come into focus since Bashar al-Assad and his allies crushed the rebel pockets near Damascus and Homs.
Assad has vowed to recover opposition-held areas near the frontiers with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and Assad's and allied forces are mobilizing. A major flareup there risks escalating the seven-year-long war that has killed an estimated half a million people.
Violence flared in several parts of the southwest on Tuesday, with government warplanes launching air strikes near a rebel-held village. But there is no sign yet of the start of the big offensive threatened by the régime.
The United States last week warned it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to Syrian government violations of a “de-escalation” agreement that it underwrote with Russia last year to contain the conflict in the southwest.
“Everyone is on guard. We are still committed to the de-escalation agreement but if the regime launches any attack on any sector of the south, it will be faced by volcanoes of fire,” Nassim Abu Arra, commander of one of the main Free Syrian Army groups in southern Syria, the Youth of Sunna Forces, said.
Rebels attacked a military convoy bringing reinforcements overnight in the Khirbat Ghazala area, igniting clashes between midnight and 2 a.m., he said.
The air strikes near al-Masika village were a response to a separate rebel attack that destroyed a tank, he added.
Families fled the rebel-held town of Busra al-Harir, fearing it could be targeted, activists said.
The conflict in the southwest has been complicated by the role of Iran-backed forces and Israeli demands for them to kept away from the occupied Golan Heights and, more widely, to be removed from Syria entirely.
Abu Arra said the reinforcements arriving in the southwest aimed to put pressure on rebels to succumb to government demands such as accepting “reconcilation” deals, or to surrender strategic positions including the Nassib crossing with Jordan.
“But we have made up our minds. There will be no retreat from the principles of the revolution or surrender of a single inch of the Syrian south,” he said.
On Tuesday the Israeli military said that a tactical Sklyark drone was lost along its “northern border” but did not say exactly where it fell. It said there was no risk of its finders gleaning any information.
A military news outlet run by Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia, which supports Assad militarily in Syria, said a drone fell in the government-held Syrian town of Hader near the Golan Heights frontier.'