Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria: Monitor

Geneva Stokes
July 19, 2018

Syrian government troops have intensified shelling in the southern province of Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on Sunday and seized part of the area, a war monitor said.

Dozens of Syrian civilians have approached the border fence with Israel, apparently seeking safe passage to the Golan Heights, but were sent back by an Israeli border guard.

The station said the evacuation of almost 1,000 people will likely be completed by Sunday. In return, the Syrian Army won't enter the city itself, except for if they are transferring through it to get to ISIS-contested territory nearby.

For almost one month, Syria's government has worked to capture the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra with a mix of heavy bombardment, ground attacks and surrender deals brokered by Moscow.

But the talks faltered, triggering the overnight onslaught and a new wave of displacement, with hundreds leaving the town again.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have thronged to the Golan in the past month, fleeing a rapidly advancing offensive which has defeated rebels across a swathe of territory near Jordan and Israel and generated pressure on both neighbours to extend aid.

Israel considers it paramount to roll back Iran's territorial expansion before the United States draws down its forces, the Wall Street Journal said, pointing to the June strike as indicating that urgency.

According to the same sources, regime forces on Sunday attacked the town of Mashara in Syria's eastern Quneitra province, which is situated close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

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The deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements the regime has used to retake large parts of the country.

"We now are working on the logistical arrangements", said an Islamist rebel source familiar with the secret negotiations that Turkey was also involved in.

In April 2017, thousands of people in the two Shi'ite towns were evacuated to government-held areas in a swap that in exchange freed hundreds of Sunnis living in former rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani who were then besieged by Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group.

The clashes had left 18 regime forces and 13 rebels and allied jihadists dead, the monitor said. Government fighters waved rifles and held aloft pictures of Assad as they celebrated on camera from the location, al-Haara hill.

The vehicles, parked on a main thoroughfare connecting the city's government-held north with its rebel south, were searched by Russian forces before setting off just after midday for Idlib.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month that Iran was one of the key players in the region, and that it would be "absolutely unrealistic" to expect it to leave Syria.

A US intelligence report viewed by American media, however, said Putin was expected to ask Trump to deliver on his promise and indeed pull out of Syria.

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