This Thursday, June 28, 2018, photo provided by Nabaa Media, a Syrian opposition media outlet, shows children with their family belongings in the back of a truck fleeing from Daraa, southern Syria. The U.N. human rights chief warned Friday of a "catastrophe" in southern Syria where government forces are on the offensive against insurgents as more people fled their homes where they are living in miserable conditions in open areas close to the border with Jordan. (Nabaa Media via AP)

Violence in southern Syria amid negotiations for a deal

June 30, 2018 - 8:02 am

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces pressed their offensive in the country's south on Saturday under the cover of airstrikes as rebels said Syrian ally Russia has put forward conditions to end the violence that are hard to accept.

Syrian state media said more areas in Daraa province were captured and in others rebels agreed to hand over their weapons and reconcile with the government.

The government offensive that began June 19 has killed scores of people, wounded hundreds of others and forced more than 50,000 to flee to areas close to the Jordanian border and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels' joint operations room, said the insurgents set up a delegation that met with Russian officials Friday and another meeting was scheduled for Saturday.

Jabawi told The Associated Press that Russia, a strong ally of President Bashar Assad's government, wants rebels to hand over their weapons followed by the return of government forces to rebel-held areas.

Jabawi said by telephone that the meetings with the Russians are taking place in an area near where the provinces of Daraa and Sweida meet.

"The Russian conditions are that rebels hand over everything and in return all areas will come under Bashar Assad's control," Jabawi said. "All people who carried arms will be put on trial."

Jabawi said the Russian conditions "cannot be accepted" adding that to pressure the rebels, intense airstrikes have been targeting southern villages and towns that have escaped much of Syria's seven-year conflict.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the negotiations between rebels and the Russians aim to find "a full solution" for the future of Daraa.

It said negotiations aim to reach a cease-fire as well as rebels handing over their heavy weapons then later their light weapons. It added that in return for Russian guarantees, the rebels would hand over the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and return state institutions to rebel-held areas in the south.

The Observatory said that since the offensive began 11 days ago, 116 civilians have been killed including five on Saturday.

Jumana Ghunaimat, Jordanian government spokeswoman, said Amman is communicating with most of the parties to the Syrian crisis, mainly Russia and the U.S., in an attempt to reach a cease-fire.

"Jordan insists on its position that a political solution must end the Syrian crisis and it deals with relief organizations to help the displaced inside Syria," she said late Friday.

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Associated Press writer Akram Fares contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.

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