BEIRUT (AP) — Clashes between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters in the country’s southern province of Daraa escalated this week, with reports saying three civilians were killed there on Thursday, as well as eight government troops and five rebel fighters.
The violence is one of the most serious challenges to a 2018 tenuous deal between the two sides, negotiated by Russia.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground, said the escalation began with raids by Syrian government troops on opposition-held areas earlier this week. Opposition fighters fought back and routed government forces from some military posts.
On Tuesday, government troops and their allies launched raids and shelled areas controlled by opposition forces in Daraa al-Balad, a southern district of the provincial capital of Daraa, reportedly in search of wanted men.
The province became known as the cradle of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring revolts. It was recaptured by Syrian government troops in 2018. Assad has since regained control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran.
The Russian-mediated deal allowed some of the province’s armed opposition to remain in their former strongholds, in charge of security. Government troops retained control of the province, but security duties were divided. Tension regularly erupted and government troops tried several times to take over areas under opposition control.
The Observatory said Russian mediation since Wednesday has failed to contain the latest escalation in Daraa. On Wednesday, government forces shelled the only medical clinic in the area, according to the Observatory.
Syrian state news agency SANA said two civilians were killed on Thursday, including a child. The Observatory meanwhile said eight government troops and five opposition fighters were killed.
The Observatory also reported that opposition fighters pushed government forces back and took over some military posts. It said 40 fighters allied with the government were abducted. It was not immediately possible to independently confirm the report.
Sarah El Deeb, The Associated Press