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Syria regime reclaims more ground in south

By AFP

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Displaced Syrians from Daraa province fleeing shelling by regime and allied forces wait in a makeshift camp to cross the Jordanian border, near the town of Nasib on July 1st. [Mohamad Abazeed/AFP]

A string of opposition-held locations in southern Syria passed into regime control Sunday (July 1st) as regime forces regained more ground under Russian-brokered deals, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Talks involving opposition groups, local officials and regime ally Russia saw agreements struck for four villages and a town near the Jordan border, extending regime control to some 60% of Daraa province, the Observatory said.

A ceasefire deal saw a tentative calm on most fronts in the region from Saturday evening, but clashes in one area took the lives of at least 17 combatants from both sides, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

The regime has chipped away at opposition-held territory in Daraa since ratcheting up the violence almost two weeks ago, with Russia stepping in to oversee a string of deals to retake towns from the embattled opposition.

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Jordanian soldiers control the border between Syria and Jordan, near the town of Nasib, southern Syria, on July 1st. [Mohamad Abazeed/AFP]

The agreements Sunday covered four villages and the town of Busra al-Sham, putting regime forces within seven kilometres of the Jordanian border, the Observatory said.

So far 132 civilians, including 25 children, have been killed in the latest surge in fighting in Daraa, according to the Observatory.

Other opposition bodies have rejected the deals.

In a statement Monday, the civilian half of the opposition's delegation said they had withdrawn from talks.

"We did not attend negotiations today. We were not party to any agreement and we never will be," said the statement.

The Observatory said on Monday there were divisions among opposition groups over whether to agree to the terms proposed by Russia.

Thousands displaced

The UN said Monday that 70,000 had been displaced by fighting in the south.

"We were expecting the number of displaced in southern Syria to reach 200,000, but it has already exceeded 270,000 people in record time," said Mohammad Hawari, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Amman.

The regime and Russia are pushing for a deal that would see regime forces take over the Nasib border crossing with Jordan, Abdel Rahman said.

Russia is seeking the handover of heavy and medium-sized weapons, and the deployment of Russian military police and Syrian police into towns retaken by regime forces, he said.

The regime has more than doubled the amount of territory it held in Daraa since escalating its military pressure, on Saturday retaking eight towns under Russia-mediated deals.

Jordan stepped in to try to avert further violence and stem another wave of displacement across its border on Sunday, mediating new talks between Russia and the opposition for a truce in the southwest, the Jordan Times reported.

Talks on Saturday broke down as the regime seized more ground.

Discussions on Sunday were difficult, diplomatic sources said, with opposition negotiators saying they would only accept a deal that made Jordan a guarantor for the safety of Daraa province's 800,000 civilians.

Jordanian aid campaign

Meanwhile, the Jordan Times reported, residents of the towns of Ramtha and Mafraq have been collecting donations to be sent to displaced Syrians.

Thirty trucks of supplies were waiting for approval to head towards thousands of Syrians inside their country near the border line, Ramtha residents said.

Following a Sunday visit to the border, Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz unveiled a national aid campaign to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

Razzaz said the campaign would be administrated through the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, with the aim of unifying all relief efforts and sending urgent assistance to the "Syrian brothers inside their country".

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