DARAA: Syria’s government ramped up its bombardment of the southern city of Daraa on Monday, forcing dozens of families to flee an expected assault on the cradle of a seven-year uprising.
After a string of wins elsewhere, President Bashar al-Assad has set his sights on recapturing the country’s strategic south, which borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. His forces have been battering rebel-held towns in Daraa province for nearly a week, leaving at least 29 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
They then turned to the provincial capital of the same name, launching air strikes and barrel bombs on opposition-held districts early on Monday.
More than 55 surface-to-surface missiles slammed into those neighbourhoods after midnight, followed by four barrel bombs, the Britain-based Observatory said.
“It is the first time they drop barrel bombs on Daraa city in more than a year,” said monitor chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the city was struck again around noon, this time with air strikes by Syria’s ally Russia, which has helped Assad’s troops recapture swathes of territory since 2015.
The attacks prompted dozens of terrified families to stream out of Daraa city.
Many set out in the dead of night to seek shelter in olive groves on the city limits.
Leaving on foot or by motorbike, they took refuge in small shacks or tents among the trees.
“We don’t know what happened. We were sleeping with the children when all of a sudden, we heard heavy shelling,” said Ahmad al-Musalima. “The kids started shaking in fear,” he said.
He and his family fled overnight, joining an estimated 20,000 people displaced by the past week’s escalating violence, according to the Observatory.
“We left the house and didn’t know where to go. We headed towards the plain with the kids crying and heavy shelling overhead,” Musalima said.
Syrian rebels hold the western half of Daraa city and most of the surrounding province, as well most of the adjacent governorate of Quneitra to the west.
That territory roughly forms a horseshoe, whose bottom curve borders Jordan and includes a military base held by rebels since 2014.
Syrian troops meanwhile hold Daraa city’s eastern half and nearly all the adjacent province of Sweida.
Those areas have come under opposition fire too, with rebels launching rockets on Sweida city Monday, state news agency SANA said.
Front lines had been relatively quiet for nearly a year under a “de-escalation” deal agreed in July 2017 by Russia, the US, and Jordan.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018