Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a ceasefire there nearly a year ago, as allied government troops prepared a ground assault to liberate the territory bordering the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by terrorists.
Previously, Syria has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding the hostile Israeli-backed mercenaries to surrender, before it escalated bombardments on terrorist positions in recent days.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 25 Russian air-strikes hit the rebel zones in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the ceasefire was agreed in southern Syria last year.
The warplanes used, based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns, had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
A big offensive risks an escalation that could draw the USA deeper into the proxy war. Southwest Syria is of strategic concern to Pentagon ally Israel, which this year has stepped up attacks against Syria.
About 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the UK Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly equipped displacement camps farther west near the Jordanian-Israeli border.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger. In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated political settlement for Syria’s south.
The USA, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a southwestern ceasefire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement.
The Syrian government has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.
Russia Insider / ABC Flash Point Invasion News 2018.