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Daraa begins implementation of ceasefire deal

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and AFP

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Syrians displaced from Daraa province villages and towns prepare to return to their homes following the announcement of a reconciliation agreement. [Photo courtesy of Jumaa al-Masalma]

Syria's southern province of Daraa is awaiting the full implementation of a Russia-brokered ceasefire agreement between opposition factions in the area and the Syrian regime, an activist on the ground told Diyaruna.

The agreement calls for the declaration of a permanent ceasefire, and for the departure of fighters and civilians who wish to leave for Idlib province.

But military operations, airstrikes and shelling continued in several areas over the weekend, and an evacuation deal planned for Sunday (July 8th) was put on temporary hold, Daraa-based activist Jumaa al-Masalma told Diyaruna.

Clashes continued Sunday in the area between Daraa city and Um al-Mayazin.

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Syrian regime forces retook the Nassib border crossing with Jordan on Friday (July 6th). [Photo courtesy of Jumaa al-Masalma]

Opposition fire on a regime convoy near Um al-Mayazin on the highway from the border crossing with Jordan killed several soldiers on Sunday, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Three civilians were killed later in the day in airstrikes on Um al-Mayazin, he said, with regime forces eventually taking control of the village.

"The military incursion into Um al-Mayazin came after opposition fighters there rejected the agreement," Abdel Rahman said.

A regime airstrike on the opposition-held half of the provincial capital of Daraa also killed one civilian, the Observatory said.

By late Sunday, regime forces had taken control of an air base southwest of Daraa city after opposition fighters there withdrew, the Observatory said.

Displaced civilians return from border

Under the ceasefire deal, regime forces were to deploy along the frontier with Jordan, while opposition fighters were to hand over their heavy weapons.

More than 60,000 displaced civilians -- the majority of those displaced by the fighting in Daraa -- are returning from the border area, the Observatory said.

There are only "around 150 to 200 people right now at the border", said Anders Pederson, UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Jordan.

"A few remain in Qunaitra, opting to wait before returning," al-Masalma said.

Under the ceasefire agreement, he said, the regime guaranteed the safety of returning civilians and the departure of civilians and combatants who do not wish to remain to the northern province of Idlib.

About 6,000 want to leave the area, he said, noting that most fighters seeking to leave are members of Tahrir al-Sham and other extremist groups.

An "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) affiliate, which holds a small pocket in the southwest of Daraa, is excluded from the ceasefire deal.

A number of civilians who seek to leave had been sentenced in absentia and are not among those granted pardons under the agreement, al-Masalma said.

Meanwhile, "local opposition groups announced their dissolution in preparation for the next stage, when some will play a role in the local police force", he said.

Despite continued tensions, al-Masalma said, calm has descended on many areas where armed groups have handed over heavy weapons in their possession as a prelude to the full implementation of the agreement.

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