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Syrian regime retakes strategic hill in Daraa

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and AFP

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A Syrian army officer stands in the main square of the Daraa province town of al-Hara after regime forces entered it and took over its strategic hill. [Photo courtesy of Musab Assaf]

The Syrian regime has completed its recapture of the areas outside its control in rural Daraa, and its troops have entered the town of al-Hara in the northern part of the province and retaken its nearby hill, a local source said.

This came amid heavy shelling and airstrikes over the past several days, with Syrian army troops entering the city right after the shelling stopped, Free Syrian Army (FSA) officer Yasser al-Turkmani told Diyaruna.

The days-long shelling of al-Hara in northern rural Daraa and its strategic hilltop forced Syrian opposition fighters to withdraw from it, paving the way for the entry of the Syrian regime, he said.

"The airstrikes were intensive and the casualties in the ranks of opposition fighters are expected to be high," he added.

Division arose in the ranks of the opposition between those who oppose and support reconciliation with the regime, which led to the resumption of shelling and airstrikes, al-Turkmani said.

Those opposed to reconciliation were present in some neighbourhoods of al-Hara, al-Hara hill and in al-Jadira, a small town to the east, he said.

More than 200 airstrikes, 100 surface-to-surface missiles and hundreds of medium-range artillery shells were counted in the 24 hours that preceded the regime's entry into the area.

Opposition's fate unclear

Al-Turkmani said control of al-Hara hill is of major significance because it is one of the highest points in the area and enables the party that controls it to control the area surrounding it.

By entering al-Hara and taking the hill and the villages of Simleen, Zimreen and Khirbet al-Maliha, the Syrian regime now controls almost all of the Daraa region, he said, with the exception of a small area controlled by "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) affiliate Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid.

"The fate of opposition fighters opposed to reconciliation is still unclear," al-Turkmani said, "as communication with them was cut off, while the majority of those who accepted reconciliation do not want to leave for Idlib province."

Those who do not oppose reconciliation have agreed to the security measures that will be arranged between them and the regime, he noted.

"There is a possibility that these fighters would join the ranks of the newly-formed 5th Corps, a Syrian army brigade established to absorb the elements of opposition groups that accept reconciliation with the regime," he said.

It has been suggested that the regime will use this brigade to fight ISIS and Jaish Khalid ibn al-Walid remnants in the area.

Regime pushes into Quneitra

Airstrikes on Tuesday (July 17th) killed seven civilians in the neighbouring province of Quneitra, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The regime has been pounding Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake it, after winning back most of Daraa in less than a month.

"Six civilians, including two women and three children, were killed in airstrikes near Ain al-Tina" on Quneitra's border with Daraa, the Observatory said.

It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Observatory said.

In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids killed one civilian near the village of al-Aliya, it said.

"Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian airstrikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Tahrir al-Sham is present in that area, he said.

The extremist alliance is not included in a ceasefire between regime and opposition fighters in Daraa announced earlier this month.

In Quneitra on Monday, opposition fighters in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman said.

"Opposition factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction," he said.

In two days since Sunday, at least 43 regime troops have been killed in Daraa and Quneitra, while 48 extremists and opposition fighters have lost their lives, the Observatory said.

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