DARAA: Syria’s army entered rebel-held parts of Daraa city on Thursday, state media said, raising the national flag in the cradle of the uprising that sparked the country’s seven-year war.
After securing Damascus in May, President Bashar al-Assad is determined to oust rebels from a key southern region bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
A ceasefire announced last week stemmed nearly three weeks of regime bombardment on the southern province of Daraa, including the symbolic provincial capital of the same name.
Until then, the northern half of Daraa city was in regime hands, while the opposition held out in its southern neighbourhoods including Daraa al-Balad.
“Syrian army units enter Daraa al-Balad and raise the national flag in the main square,” the official news agency SANA reported on Thursday afternoon.
Late on Wednesday, it had said the regime and rebels had reached a deal for opposition fighters to hand over their heavy weapons in opposition-held parts of the city.
On Thursday, a correspondent in Daraa al-Balad saw a convoy of Russian military police and regime officers enter the city with journalists to raise the flag.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the flag raising on Thursday was merely “symbolic”.
Measures to implement the so-called reconciliation deal for rebel-held parts of the city had not yet been implemented, it said.
“The rebels are still inside Daraa city,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, but had not yet handed over their heavy weapons and there were no signs of any evacuations.
Under the deal, “those (rebels) who want to settle their status with the regime will hand over their heavy weapons, keep their light arms and remain in the city”, he said.
“Those who refuse the deal will head out towards the north of Syria.” The reconciliation deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the Russia-backed regime retake large parts of the country since 2015.
They usually follow blistering military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force the rebels into surrendering.
Previous such deals have seen thousands of rebels bused up to areas still under opposition control in the north of the country.