Syrian offensive hits IS pocket


The Syrian government widened its offensive to recover the southwest, extending it to an enclave held by Islamic State-affiliated fighters as Russian warplanes targeted the area, a war monitor said.

The bombardment targeted the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan and which is held by the Islamic State-affiliated Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army.

President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to recover the entire south-western corner of Syria in an offensive that got underway last month and has so far recovered swathes of territory from rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s air strikes marked the first Russian strikes on the Yarmouk basin area in the war. It also said FSA rebels were simultaneously battling the IS-affiliated militants.

Government helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the area – containers filled with explosive material, it said.

Assad recovered swathes of Deraa province in the south-west from FSA rebels, many of who were forced into surrender agreements mediated by Russian officers. The United States, which once armed the southern FSA rebels, told them not to expect its intervention.

The Syrian government earlier this week took control of a strategically vital strip of the border from FSA rebels in Deraa province, denying access to the Jordanian frontier that was once an opposition lifeline.

Rebels holed up in a besieged enclave of Deraa are waiting to hear from the Russians over demands tabled during a meeting on Tuesday, including safe passage to the rebel-held north for those wanting to leave, rebels said.

Russians told opposition mediators at the meeting they would discuss proposals with Damascus, an opposition official said in a voice message sent to the Deraa rebels and heard by Reuters.

The rebels asked the Russians to block further ground advances by government forces towards their besieged enclave, the scene of the first major anti-Assad protests in 2011 that spiralled into war.

With help from Russia and Iran, Assad recovered control of most of Syria from rebels seeking to topple him and Islamic State jihadists, though the north and a chunk of the east remain outside his grasp.

A military media unit run by Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Damascus, said the rebel town of Tafas in west Deraa province agreed on Wednesday to a “reconciliation” with the state.

It said army soldiers were preparing to enter nearby Yadouda after insurgents there agreed to settle with government.