BEIRUT: Gunmen killed 21 Syrian soldiers in an ambush in the southern province of Daraa on Tuesday, a Britain-based war monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 21 “members of the Fourth Armoured Division and the regime’s intelligence units were killed in an ambush by militants”.

State news agency SANA reported a “terrorist attack” on a military bus in Daraa, but did not give details of numbers killed.

The soldiers were en route to the al-Mzairib district in the rural west of the province to arrest a former opposition commander when they came under fire by militants loyal to him who sought to thwart his capture, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said.

“The militants attacked two military trucks and two small buses carrying regime forces,” he added.

That sparked a gunfight which forced Damascus to deploy reinforcements to the area, Abdul Rahman said.

Russian-backed regime fighters recaptured Daraa from rebels in 2018, in a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born there in 2011. State institutions have since returned, but the army is still not deployed across the whole province, the Observatory says.

Many former rebels stayed instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal, either joining the army or remaining in control of parts of the province. They were allowed to keep their light firearms.

Al-Mzairib is among the districts controlled by former opposition forces.

Since it came under regime control, Daraa has witnessed a spate of bombings and assassinations targeting regime forces, former opposition figures and civilians. Most of them remain unclaimed.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions since it started with anti-government protests in 2011.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2021

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