EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Pitched battle in southern Syria as rebels advance
Syrian rebels on Friday advanced in the southern city of Deraa, a day after launching a new operation named “The Storm of the South”.
Exclusive footage obtained by Middle East Eye shows heavy fighting in the centre of Deraa city during an offensive whose first 24 hours saw dozens of rebels killed as well as a spillover into neighbouring Jordan.
The Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced their new offensive, which aims to take control of the whole of the city of Deraa, on Thursday morning.
The offensive, launched by FSA fighters backed up by various Islamist factions, began at 05:00 local time, with rebels armed with rocket launchers and tanks shelling forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
After fierce clashes in the town centre, the rebels took control of two checkpoints, one of which lies close to Deraa’s main hospital.
Rebels also blocked the international road linking Amman to Damascus – the route is considered a key supply route for Assad forces in the area.
Twenty-seven fighters were killed during the first day of the assault on Thursday, while rebels said nine civilians died as a result of barrel bombs launched by forces loyal to President Assad on rebel-controlled areas.
Large areas of Deraa city, home to around 100,000 people prior to the 2011 uprising, have been left gutted by the conflict.
There was no indication of casualty numbers among civilians in areas under government control.
Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said on Friday morning that the army had killed a number of “terrorists” in Deraa and confiscated their weapons, which the agency said were “Israeli-made”.
Many of the rebels injured on Thursday were transported south across the border into Jordan, just 10 kilometres from Deraa city.
As wounded fighters poured into the hospital of al-Ramtha, just over the border from Deraa, a Jordanian was killed and four injured when missiles hit the town on Thursday afternoon.
Abdel Moniem al-Hourani, a 23-year-old engineering student, died from his injuries after a mortar fired from Syria hit a busy street in the town centre.
Jordanian officials said on Friday that they were working to establish the source of the missile, and would investigate “a range of responses”.
Within Deraa, some 3,000 fighters are taking part in the operation, according to a Southern Front source who asked to remain anonymous.
Fighting alongside the Southern Front forces are fighters from al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, though the military source denied that the group had large numbers on the ground.
“The participation of al-Nusra Front in this battle is very limited,” the source said.
Southern Front leaders have consistently denied having any connection with what they call “extremist groups”.
Southern Front spokesperson Major Issam al-Rayes said on Thursday that fighters from the group “have refused for more than three years to join any extremist organisations”.
“We believe in a Syria for all Syrians.”