Syrian rebels say army besieging their enclave in Deraa

Reuters . Amman | Update:

A view of South-west Syria as seen from Quneitra countryside, Syria on 8 July 2018. Photo: ReutersThe Syrian army and allied troops on Monday laid siege to the rebel-held enclave in Deraa and were poised to gain complete control of the city where the uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule first erupted, rebels said.

Abu Shaima, a spokesman for the opposition in the southern Syrian city, said several thousand people were now encircled after the army pushed into a base west of the city without a fight.

"The army and its militias have besieged Deraa completely," the rebel spokesman told Reuters.

The return of Deraa to Assad's complete control would deal a big psychological blow to the opposition since the city came to epitomise the early peaceful protests against authoritarian rule that spread across Syria. The protests were violently crushed and paved the way for the bloody civil war.

A surrender deal was reached on Friday between Russian officers and rebel representatives to give up Deraa city along with other towns in the southern province that borders Jordan in another victory for Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.

Before the deal, many towns and villages in Deraa province were forced to agree to return to state control after a major Russian aerial bombing campaign on urban centres that led to the largest displacement of civilians in the more than seven year long conflict.

As part of the deal, opposition fighters not ready to make peace with the army must first be allowed to evacuate to opposition-held areas in northern Syria before the hand over of weapons and the return of state sovereignty.

"There are fighters who want to go to (opposition-held) Idlib but this was rejected after we were besieged," said Abu Shamia, referring to a meeting held on Sunday in which he said a go-between with Syrian army had flatly rejected their demands to leave.

The rebels say the deal also does not allow the army to move into their bastions and allows for setting up local forces from ex-rebels under the oversight of Russian military police.

"There is a lot of fear about the unknown fate and we do not trust the Russians or regime," Shaima added saying remaining rebels in Deraa city were still holding their positions on its frontlines.

Another opposition negotiator said another round of talks with Russian officers was planned this afternoon over the fate of the rebel-held bastion and security arrangements once it returns to state rule.

"We will work with the Russians on setting up a local force from the inhabitants that will prevent the entry of the army to Deraa with Russian guarantees," Abu Jihad, a negotiator said.

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