Fighting in southern Syria city kills 4 soldiers, 1 civilian

AP , Tuesday 31 Aug 2021

The opposition blamed the government for the escalation, saying that troops were pressing an offensive to force insurgents to surrender

Russian units in Daraa
A picture shows Russian troops in the Syrian district of Daraa al-Balad in Syria's southern province of Daraa, on August 24, 2021. AFP

Syrian government forces shelled rebel-held parts of a volatile southern city Monday killing at least one person, while insurgents killed four soldiers after Russia-brokered talks to end the presence of opposition fighters in the area collapsed.

Syria's state media reported that government forces retaliated against fire by opposition fighters inside the city of Daraa and that attacks on army checkpoints in the city left four soldiers dead and 15 wounded. It said several civilians were wounded in insurgent shelling of government-held parts of Daraa.

The opposition blamed the government for the escalation, saying that troops were pressing an offensive to force insurgents to surrender.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the government's elite 4th Division and pro-government gunmen tried to storm the rebel-held old quarter of Daraa known as Daraa al-Balad.

At least one person was killed and another wounded in shelling on Daraa al-Balad, according to the opposition's Syrian civil defense, also known as the White Helmets.

Russia has been mediating a new deal to end the recent fighting in Daraa under which insurgents who reject the deal will have to leave the region.

Last week, Syrian authorities ordered about 100 gunmen to leave Daraa al-Balad. A few left to rebel-held areas in the north, but dozens defied the order and stayed.

As part of the deal, government forces were supposed to enter Daraa al-Balad after the departure of the hardcore opposition gunmen. Other insurgents who accept the deal would have to hand over their weapons in return for amnesty.

Daraa province became known as the cradle of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring revolts. It was recaptured by Syrian government troops in 2018. Assad has since regained control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran.

The Russian-mediated deal in 2018 allowed some of the province's armed opposition to remain in their former strongholds, in charge of security. Government troops retained control of the province, but security duties were divided. Tensions regularly erupted and government troops tried several times to take over areas under opposition control.

Separately, in a rare incident in the central city of Hama on Monday, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead two policemen, state media reported.

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