Syrian opposition forces surrender key crossing point to regime

  • 7 Jul 2018

The opposition forces have agreed to hand over the Nasib border crossing with Jordan to the Syrian regime on Saturday as part of a Russian-brokered deal. A war monitor said that the regime now controls about 70 percent of Daraa province.

A Syrian regime soldier is seen standing in the Nasib border crossing with Jordan in Daraa, Syria on July 7, 2018. ( Reuters )

Syrian regime forces took up positions and raised flags at the Nasib border crossing with Jordan on Saturday after the opposition forces agreed to hand over the post as part of a Russian-brokered deal.

The crossing, a key trade route, was held by opposition groups nearly for three years.

The regime forces in Daraa province recovered the crossing on Friday in an offensive that has swept into opposition territory in southwest Syria with the help of heavy Russian air power.

Opposition groups agreed to give up arms in a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal, surrendering Daraa in another victory for regime leader Bashar al Assad and his allies.

The deal will take place in phases across Daraa, but there is no timeline yet, an opposition official said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that the regime now controls about 70 percent of Daraa province.

It also said more than 150 civilians have died since the offensive by regime forces began there in mid-June. 

Concrete blocks near the Nasib border crossing were plastered with emblems of opposition groups, while a regime army checkpoint at the entrance carried photos of Assad.

Dozens of Syrian regime soldiers, as well as Russian military police and armoured vehicles with the Russian flag, patrolled the crossing during a media tour.

Plumes of smoke rose from territory to the east and a few explosions rang out in the background.

Reuters Television footage showed a long convoy of tanks and vehicles, carrying hundreds of regime forces, that appeared to be heading for western Daraa province, where opposition groups still hold several towns.

Syrian regime news agency SANA said regime troops had taken up their positions on Saturday after conducting clearing operations.

In a live broadcast from the border, regime television showed groups of soldiers flashing victory signs.

A regime commander told Reuters the regime army had cut off the opposition supply routes by seizing two towns that overlook the highway leading to the Jordanian border. "There was fierce and intense resistance," he said.

Only about five towns in southeast Daraa remain in opposition hands, he added. "I believe they will decide to return to the regime's embrace, and if they are late in doing so, then we are ready to end it militarily."

Civilians flee war

Taking back the crossing paves the way for Damascus to reopen a route vital to its hopes of reviving Syria's shattered economy and rebuilding in territory under its control.

Over the last two weeks, fighting in the south uprooted more than 320,000 people, the United Nations says, in the biggest exodus of the seven-year war.

Nearly 60,000 people have gathered near the Jordan border and thousands more are seeking shelter at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Both Israel and Jordan, which beefed up their border controls, said they would not let refugees in but distributed aid inside Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said at least 28,000 people had returned in the past day to towns in eastern Daraa covered under the truce deal.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) said a convoy of food parcels and flour bags, from the UN's World Food Programme, headed to Ibta town which came under regime army control last week.

The regime's next target in the southern offensive appears to be the parts of nearby Quneitra province in opposition hands at the Golan frontier.