24 Jun 2018
First Russia air strikes hit South Syria, no casualties reported
Russian air strikes are hitting rebel-held towns in Daraa (South Syria) for the first time since a ceasefire was agreed upon last year, said the Observatory for Human Rights.
It said the warplanes used Saturday had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
At least 25 strikes hit the rebel-zones, but there were no casualties, said the Observatory.
Syrian President keen to recapture the southern provinces from rebels
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 rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
In July'17, Russia, US, Jordan agreed to ceasefire in South-Syria
Russia, United States, and Jordan agreed in July 2017 on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of Southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow's warplanes, active in Syria since 2015, had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
Forces loyal to Assad ramped up their air strikes on Tuesday. Since then, 19 civilians have died, said Britain-based Observatory.
12,000 people displaced from Daraa in recent days
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in danger.
Yesterday, the regime's forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.
International powers holding talks to reach a settlement
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria's south.
"All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that would be a worse outcome," wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.