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June 28, 2018 11:17 am

Monitor: Death Toll Doubles in Southwest Syria Offensive

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

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Smoke rises from al-Harak town, as seen from Deraa countryside, Syria, June 25, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Alaa al-Faqir.

Air strikes on Wednesday and Thursday have doubled the death toll in the Syrian army’s 10-day offensive against insurgents in the southwest, rebels and a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes killed at least 46 people in those two days in rebel-held parts of Deraa province. It said the dead included 17 people, among them five children, sheltering in a basement in the town of al-Musayfrah.

A total of 93 people have died in the assault since it began last week, the Observatory said. The Britain-based monitoring group and two rebel sources said aircraft bombed Busra al-Sham, Nawa, Rakham and other towns in the province.

Warfare in southwestern Syria is sensitive to neighboring Jordan and Israel, though government bombardments so far have not focused on territory nearest to Israel’s Golan Heights.

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The southwest falls under a de-escalation deal which the United States, Jordan, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ally Russia struck last year. Washington had warned it would respond to violations but has so far shown no sign of doing so.

There was no immediate comment from Damascus or Moscow, which have said they only target armed militants in the seven-year conflict.

“We can’t even catch up to count the air strikes,” said Abdallah Mahameed, a rebel official in Deraa. “The house is shaking around us.”

Abu Jihad, a local opposition official near the border, said the violence since Wednesday had forced at least 11,000 people to flee their homes and towns. If the escalation continues, he said, people would head closer to the frontiers with Jordan and Israel.

Syrian state television said the air force targeted militants in Busra al-Sham in east Deraa province on Thursday, and that government forces entered two villages further northeast. It said 450 insurgents in the Laja area, which the army seized earlier this week, handed themselves in with their weapons to “settle their affairs” with the government.

Assad’s military, with the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, has driven rebels out of all their enclaves near the capital Damascus this year.

The United Nations says the assault has uprooted at least 45,000 civilians. Jordan, which already hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, has said it will not open the border for more.

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