Syrian rebels in south agree to resume talks with Russian Federation

Leroy Wright
July 7, 2018

Russian guarantees will also be extended to rebel fighters who wish to "settle their status" with the government - a process by which former insurgents accept to live under state rule again, the rebel sources said.

Within 24 hours of the resumed bombing, rebels said they wanted to return to negotiations, with the talks focusing on their pullout from the territory they still control in Daraa's western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.

Rebels in southern Syria said on Friday they were close to reaching a deal with regime ally Russian Federation including a ceasefire and the handover of some territory.

The Observatory said an armed group that had controlled some border villages had handed over control to the advancing government forces without putting up resistance.

More than 320,000 people have fled the intense fighting and bombardment since the launch of the government-led push on June 19, according to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Wednesday talks fell apart as sources said a main cause of the halt was the reluctance of militants to hand over their heavy-duty arms all at once, as demanded by Russian Federation.

It came after the collapse of a previous round of talks on Wednesday ushered in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the south's joint rebel command, accused Russian Federation of pursuing a "scorched-earth policy" to force rebels back to the negotiating table.

On Thursday, the rebels' joint operations room in the south said it would be willing to resume talks.

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The rebels will surrender their heavy weapons in exchange for the partial withdrawal of government forces from the area, the observatory added.

The deal, mediated by Russian Federation, will restore state sovereignty over rebel-held areas in Daraa province following a fierce government offensive.

He said Syrian and Russian jets had pummeled towns across the south-west and villages near the border crossing in the past few weeks.

Syria's cash-strapped government hopes to recapture Nassib so that it can reopen trade with Jordan to the south.

Hussein Abazeed said a ceasefire would take hold in the southern province of Daraa, known as the "cradle" of Syria's uprising.

Southwest Syria is a "de-escalation zone" agreed a year ago by Russia, Jordan and the United States to reduce violence.

But Russia blocked the council from adopting a statement on the issue.

Almost 150 civilians have died since the government assault in the south began two weeks ago, according to the observatory.

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