Syrian troops seize border with Jordan, rebels reach deal with Russia
BEIRUT — Syrian government forces have taken over the southern Nassib crossing on the border with Jordan as rebels agreed to give up their weapons in a deal with Russia, marking a major victory for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian flag has been hoisted at the crossing, the country’s main link to Jordan, Syria’s state SANA news agency said.
Syrian television showed footage of government tanks moving toward the crossing, which rebels seized from Syrian forces in April 2015. According to an activist in the area, Russian military police accompanied Syrian troops toward the crossing.
Nassib is a strategic crossing for Syria and Jordan.
Friday’s reported takeover comes after rebels announced reaching a deal with Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, aimed at ending a devastating government campaign in the province of Daraa in southern Syria.
Assad’s forces, backed by allied Russia, started a massive ground and air offensive in mid-July to retake Daraa, the cradle of the 2011 uprising against his rule.
The rebels agreed with Russian military officers on a gradual handover of their weapons and the deployment of Russian military police in Daraa near the Jordanian border, said Ibrahim Jabbawi, a spokesman for the rebel Central Command in southern Syria.
“The agreement includes a cessation of hostilities by both sides,” he added, without saying when the reported deal would go into effect.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported that both sides agreed on an immediate and full cease-fire in the area.
The rebels will surrender their heavy weapons in exchange for the partial withdrawal of government forces from the area, the observatory added.
Opposition sources told dpa that the deal would allow civilians to return to their villages and towns, with Moscow securing their safety and protection.
The sources added that rebels who did not wish to stay in Daraa would be allowed to leave with their light weapons to areas controlled by Turkish-backed rebels in northern Syria.
Fighters who wish to remain in the province will be assured by Russia that the government will not target them, especially those wanted for military service.
There was no official confirmation by Damascus or Moscow.
“The rebels by leaving Daraa would be losing one of their last strongholds in Syria,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, told dpa.
A member of the Free Syrian Army in southern Syria, who requested anonymity, rejected accusations that rebels accepted “a surrenderist deal” worked out by the Russians, but stressed that the deal was to avoid more bloodshed and protect civilians.
More than 320,000 people have fled the attacks by Syrian government forces and Russia, and were forced to camp in open spaces or makeshift shelters near the border with Jordan or the Golan Heights.
Meanwhile, in eastern Syria a booby-trapped car exploded late Friday in the village of al Basira, in the eastern countryside of Deir al Zour, which is controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF.
According to the Observatory at least 18 people were killed in the blast, among them seven civilians and 11 SDF fighters. An SDF commander was also among the dead.
Kurdish sources said Islamic State militants were behind the blast.