BEIRUT: Thirteen combatants and three civilians were killed on Thursday in Syria’s southern province of Daraa during the fiercest clashes there since the area came under regime control, a war monitor said, reports AFP.
Russian-backed Syrian army and allied forces recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011.
Tensions flared on Thursday, leading to what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa since it came under regime control”.
Fighting started when regime forces fired artillery shells towards the former opposition hub of Daraa al-Balad in tandem with a ground push, the Britain-based war monitor said.
In response, gunmen launched a counterattack across many parts of the Daraa countryside, where they seized several regime positions and captured dozens of regime fighters.
“Eight Syrian regime and allied militia fighters died during clashes across Daraa province in recent hours,” the Observatory said.
“Gunmen also captured more than 40 members of the regime forces” in Daraa’s western and eastern countryside, it said.
Many former rebels stayed in Daraa instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal, either joining the army or remaining in control of parts of the province.
Daraa al-Balad, a southern district of Daraa city, is among the areas controlled by former opposition forces.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper on Thursday said the Syrian army had started “a military operation against hideouts of terrorists who thwarted a reconciliation deal.”
The official SANA news agency said that the “Syrian army has deployed in several areas neighbouring Daraa al-Balad to tighten security”, accusing local fighters there of carrying out attacks against Syrian soldiers and civilians.
In March, gunmen in Daraa killed 21 Syrian soldiers in a bus ambush.
The soldiers were en route to Al-Mzairib district in the rural west of the province to arrest a former opposition commander when they came under fire.
Daraa has witnessed a spate of bombings and assassinations targeting regime forces, former opposition figures and civilians since it came under regime control. Most of them remain unclaimed.
The war in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.