Syrian army gains ground in SW

BEIRUT/AMMAN: The Syrian army and its allies seized control of at least 30 km of Syria’s border with Jordan from rebels in an attack on Thursday, two rebel groups and a Syrian military source said.
The army and its allies had gained control over all checkpoints and border posts on the border in Sweida, one of four Syrian provinces that border Jordan.
Rebel groups still control much of Syria’s southwestern frontier with Jordan and Israel. Sweida province was not included in a US-Russian brokered ceasefire that took effect in nearby areas of the southwest in July.
Said Saef, spokesman for the rebel group Martyr Ahmed Abdo brigade, said Thursday’s attack came from two sides in Sweida’s east countryside. “Most of the eastern Sweida countryside is now in the hands of the regime,” he added.
The army had advanced to the border and retaken posts it abandoned in the early years of the conflict when rebels took over large parts of south western Syria.
“They are now on the Jordanian border and back to outposts they had evacuated early in the conflict,” said Saef.
Another rebel spokesman said the army gains were helped by a sudden pull-back by Jaish al Ashair rebel group, which had been responsible for patrolling that stretch of the border.
The Syrian military source said the army and its allies had taken more than 30 km of the border, and described the advance as a “big success”.
Meanwhile, Syrian government bombardment on two areas included in fragile “de-escalation zones” in the country killed four people on Thursday, a monitoring group said.
One person was killed in air strikes on a safe zone in central Syria, and another three died in shelling on a zone near the capital, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Seven others were wounded in the regime shelling that killed three civilians in a town in the Eastern Ghouta zone, a rebel bastion near Damascus, the Observatory said.
“The shelling hit the town of Hammuriyeh early on Thursday, killing a woman, a man, and a child,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The attack came a day after government shelling killed five civilians and wounded 10 more in the nearby town of Kfar Batna, the British-based Observatory said.
Air strikes have also pummelled rebel-held parts of the Jobar district of Damascus and the adjacent district of Ain Tarma.
Eastern Ghouta is one of four “de-escalation zones” announced in May.
Three of the zones have been agreed so far: in Eastern Ghouta, the northern parts of central Homs province, and in Syria’s south.
The fourth zone, in northwestern Idlib province, has yet to be implemented. Syrian government air strikes on Thursday killed a man in the ceasefire zone in Homs, the Observatory and a resident said.
The raids were the first since that truce was announced one week ago.
Abbas Abu Osama, a resident of the town of Al Houla, said that six strikes hit his hometown by Thursday afternoon.
“We have our first casualty, killed in an air strike in Tal Dahab” near Al Houla, he said.
Abdel Rahman confirmed that a man was killed in a raid but could not specify whether he was a rebel fighter or civilian.
More than 330,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
The conflict has drawn in international powers, including Russia, which has carried out bombing raids in support of Assad’s forces since September 2015. — Agencies