This Thursday, July 5, 2018 photo provided by Nabaa Media, a Syrian opposition media outlet, shows smoke rising over buildings that were hit by Syrian government forces bombardment, in Daraa province, southern Syria. Syrian state media and a war monitor say government forces have captured new areas along the border with Jordan and are on the verge of reaching a main crossing between the two countries. (Nabaa Media, via AP)

Syrian troops reach border crossing with Jordan

July 06, 2018 - 11:37 am

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces on Friday reached a vital border crossing with Jordan and raised the national flag for the first time in years, state media reported, reinstating sovereignty over a key region that potentially reopens the way for Syrian exports to Arab countries.

State news agency SANA said the capture of the Naseeb border crossing happened Friday afternoon after a deal was reached between rebels and Russian mediators to end the violence in southern Syria.

The capture of the Naseeb border crossing is another victory for President Bashar Assad's forces, who have regained control of most of the area's key cities from insurgents in recent years with the help of his strong allies Russia and Iran.

Rebels seized control of the crossing in 2015, cutting a major lifeline for Syrian exports and disrupting a major trade route between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and oil-rich gulf counties.

Earlier on Friday, rebels said they reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Daraa and surrender the Naseeb crossing point. The agreement was reached following an intense aerial campaign and the capture of new areas along the border.

Syrian government forces launched a wide offensive on June 19 to retake Daraa and the nearby Quneitra region that borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The attack has displaced some 330,000 people and left dozens dead.

Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels' joint operations room, said they have reached an agreement with the Russians in which insurgents will begin to hand over some of their heavy weapons in return for a government pullout from several villages.

Jabawi added that Russian military police would deploy along the border with Jordan, including the Naseeb border crossing, and that rebels opposed to the deal will be evacuated to rebel-held regions in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 159 civilians have been killed since the offensive began two weeks ago, including 33 children.

Friday's agreement came after the bombardment of rebel-held areas intensified earlier this week after rebels rejected a deal with the Russians. The crushing new wave of attacks appears to have compelled the rebels to accept the deal.

Nabaa Media, an opposition activist collective, said the latest government assault on the area killed several people including a woman and her four children in a rebel-held village in Daraa. The agency posted a video showing what it said were the women and her children lying dead in a pickup truck.

The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said in a statement Friday it received "horrific reports" of an entire family including four children being killed. It said the latest deaths bring to 65 the number of children reported killed in less than three weeks in southern Syria alone.

"In the largest wave of displacement to hit southern Syria since the start of the seven-year-long war, an estimated 180,000 children have been forced to flee their homes with little resource for protection, shelter or assistance," UNICEF said.

Earlier on Friday, the government-controlled Central Military Media said government forces now control most of the towns and villages on the eastern side of southern Daraa province.

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