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Government airstrikes pound Deraa province, at least 16 civilians killed

The airstrikes come just hours after the Southern Front rebel alliance said it was gearing up to launch a major offensive
The Southern Front rebel alliance is planning an assault on government forces in Deraa city pictured (MEE/Abo Bakr al-Hajj Ali)

Government airstrikes pounded Deraa province on Tuesday evening, killing at least 16 people, including 13 children, a monitoring group said.

Eastern Ghariyah, a small town just 10 kilometres north of Deraa city, bore the brunt of the attacks, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  

However, MEE contributor Abo Bakr al-Hajj Ali who is currently camped out with opposition forces outside of Deraa said that the casualty figures were higher. According to his sources, 23 people were killed including 20 children. 

Those killed in Ghariyah were attending lessons on the Koran in Ghariyah, locals told the Observatory. The Syrian government has not commented on reports of the attack.

A local resident who had fled the town told MEE: "When the children got out of the mosque, warplanes raided on the town. The first raid [happened] near the mosque, a minute later a second raid [happened] next to the mosque, just as the children were leaving. The children come out of the mosque at the same time practically every day."

"I saw their remains and their blood scattered in the streets," the resident who did not want to give his name added. 

The government airstrikes come just hours after Southern Front alliance of rebel forces announced that it was gearing up to launch a major offensive to drive out government troops that still control the centre of the provincial capital but have been largely pushed out elsewhere in the southern province.

Hajj Ali is currently embedded with the Southern Front, an alliance of about 50 rebel groups that are considered one of the more moderate forces in the ever polarizing war, but have fought alongside groups like Jaysh al-Islam and on occasion the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria’s affiliate.

His latest report includes exclusive footage of the opposition preparations ahead of the Deraa offensive expected to take place over the next few days.

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