- Daraa was where the uprising began that sparked Syria’s seven-year war
- The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province
AMMAN: Syria’s army entered rebel-held parts of Daraa city on Thursday, state media said, raising the national flag in the cradle of the uprising that sparked the country’s seven-year war.
“Syrian army units enter Daraa Al-Balad and raise the national flag in the main square,” the official news agency SANA said of the centre of the southern city.
On Wednesday, state media said opposition fighters and the regime had reached a deal for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons in Daraa Al-Balad and other opposition-held parts of the city.
That deal comes after a ceasefire announced last week stemmed nearly three weeks of regime bombardment on the symbolic wider province of the same name bordering Jordan.
The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province, including its symbolic capital where 2011 protests against President Bashar Assad are seen to have started the uprising that spiralled into civil war.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the regime forces entering Daraa Al-Balad on Thursday was merely “symbolic”.
Measures to implement the so-called reconciliation deal for rebel-held parts of the city had not yet been implemented, it said.
“The rebels are still inside Daraa city,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, but had not yet handed over their heavy weapons and there were no signs of any evacuations.
Under the deal, “those (rebels) who want to settle their status with the regime will hand over their heavy weapons, keep their light arms and remain in the city”, he said.
“Those who refuse the deal will head out towards the north of Syria.”
The reconciliation deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the regime retake large parts of the country since 2015.
They usually follow blistering military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force the rebels into surrendering.
Previous such deals have seen thousands of rebels bused up to areas still under opposition control in the north of the country.
The news comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Thursday for access to 210,000 displaced people who have fled fighting in southern Syria and are in urgent need of medicines and health services, including some injured requiring evacuation.
With temperatures soaring to up to 45 degrees Celsius (113°F), at least 15 Syrians, including 12 children, have died in the past week due to dehydration and diseases linked to contaminated water, the UN health agency said in a statement.
Three out of four public hospitals and health centres in Deraa and Quneitra are closed or only partially functioning, it said. “We call on all parties to open the door to people in southern Syria and allow the safe delivery of medicines and medical items they need, and to grant severely injured patients safe passage to hospitals outside the area that can save their lives.”