Russian-brokered cease-fire takes hold in southern Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — A Russian-negotiated cease-fire took effect Wednesday in a volatile southern city, according to the Syrian opposition and state media.

Violence in the area in recent weeks between government forces and opposition fighters had threatened to undo years of relative calm along the borders with Israel and Jordan.

As part of the deal, Russian military police are deploying in Daraa al-Balad, the rebel-held old quarter of Daraa city in southern Syria. The deal also involves the disarming or expulsion of a dozen rebel fighters from the area who were considered by the Syrian government to be a threat to the cease-fire agreement, The Britain-based war monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Adnan Masalmeh, an opposition figure involved in the talks, said the deal also ensures an end to the siege imposed on Daraa city since violence broke out.

Syrian state-run Al-Ikhbariyah TV said a center has been set up for opposition gunmen to hand in their weapons or register to leave the area. Most of those who choose leaving end up heading to the northern enclave still controlled by opposition and militant fighters.

Fighting in Daraa al-Balad has raged for weeks, leaving dozens of fighters and government troops dead and sending many residents fleeing.

The opposition blamed the government for the escalation, saying that troops were pressing an offensive to force insurgents to surrender.

Russia has been mediating a new deal to end the recent fighting. As part of the deal, government police and allied militias were supposed to enter Daraa al-Balad after the departure of the hardcore opposition gunmen. Other insurgents who accept the deal would have to hand over their weapons in return for amnesty.

Daraa province, which straddles the borders with Jordan and Israel, became known as the cradle of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring revolts. It was recaptured by Syrian government troops in 2018. Assad has since regained control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran.

A Russian-mediated deal in 2018 allowed some of the province’s armed opposition to remain in their former strongholds, in charge of security. Government troops retained control of the province, but security duties were divided. Tensions regularly erupted and government troops tried several times to take over areas under opposition control.

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