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Syria: UN calls for 'immediate ceasefire' as 18,000 civilians flee Daraa

Clashes between government forces and rebel groups continue as Russia-mediated negotiations falter
A Syrian man rides a motorcycle while carrying a gas cylinder, as he drives past the Omari mosque in the southern Syrian city of Daraa (File pic/AFP)

The United Nations has called for a ceasefire in the flashpoint province of Daraa in Syria, where it says recent violence has forced thousands to flee.

Fighting between government forces and armed opposition groups in the southern province last month killed at least 28 people.

'There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Daraa'

- Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The clashes have died down over the past week, but were the most intense since the government seized back control of the region from rebels in 2018.

The government attacks focused on Daraa al-Balad, a southern district of Daraa’s provincial capital and a former opposition hub that continues to house former rebel fighters.

In a statement released on Thursday, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that since 28 July, the escalation in fighting has forced at least 18,000 civilians to flee Daraa al-Balad.

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"In recent days, they have only been allowing pedestrians out of Daraa al-Balad along the al-Saraya road, subjecting people to strict security checks," the UN said.

Bachelet said civilians in Daraa al-Balad were effectively "under siege". 

"They are facing checkpoints, restrictions on their movements, tanks on the streets and their property is being seized and stolen," said Bachelet.

"There needs to be an immediate ceasefire to alleviate the suffering of civilians in Daraa."

Faltering negotiations

Negotiations between the government and a local committee run by regional elders over a ceasefire have been faltering for about a month, with the Government Negotiations Committee insisting on the deployment of pro-Iran forces in the city.

On Monday, after another round of the Russian-mediated negotiations failed, as rebel fighters launched sporadic attacks on government positions in Daraa. 

"The local committee today submitted new proposals for the deployment of pro-Russian forces instead of pro-Iranian forces," a source close to the local committee told Middle East Eye on Monday.

Syria: Sporadic fighting in Daraa as negotiations falter
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The troops would include former rebels serving in the Russian-backed Fifth Corps, as well as Russian military police forces.

The majority of the rebels' attacks on Monday were focused on a government military checkpoint operated by the State Security Branch and a checkpoint belonging to the notorious Military Security Branch, in the city of al-Hara, north of Daraa.

Russian-backed Syrian troops and allied forces recaptured Daraa province from rebels in 2018, in a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born in its provincial capital in 2011. 

Thousands of fighters evacuated under a Moscow-brokered deal, but many former rebels also stayed on in the province, some joining the government forces.

State institutions have returned to the province, but the army has still not deployed in some areas, including Daraa al-Balad.

Last month's clashes came after government forces tightened control around Daraa al-Balad in a bid to pressure opposition fighters there to withdraw to rebel-held territory in Syria’s north.

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