After relative calm prevailed for three years in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, the city has become the site of a showdown since the Syrian military stormed into the rebel-dominated area last week.

The government began an assault back in June with targeted air strikes against “terrorist positions” in Daraa, a strategic area that borders Jordan and the Golan Heights where the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 

But fighting flared up again last week when Syrian army troops staged a ground assault. The rebels in Daraa launched a counter attack and surprised Syrian forces, many of whom were captured. The army countered by sending in elite troops, tanks and armored vehicles.

According to the UK-based watchdog group Syrian Observatory, 12 civilians, 11 armed men and nine government forces were killed.

The Syrian regime justified its attack on Daraa on the pretext of security concerns and ongoing attacks on its own forces. The army stepped up artillery attacks on Thursday followed by a massive ground attack after Daraa’s leaders rejected a demand to hand over its weapons.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the fighting the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa since it came under regime control.”

The Syrian army wrested Daraa from rebels in 2018. But a Russian-brokered deal required rebel leaders to evacuate the region, which many did not. Both the government and the rebels have accused each other of breaching this agreement over the past few years. 

Jordan temporarily closed its border with Syria, “as a result of the developments in the security situation on the Syrian side,” according to an official who said the border will reopen when the time is right.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire went into effect over the weekend, but has already been violated. The previous settlement, also brokered by the Russians in 2018, aims to keep Iran and Iranian proxies from occupying the region.  

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