DAMASCUS Syrian army entered Dara’a city on Thursday and raised the national flag over an area held by rebels for years, witnesses said, leaving Damascus poised for another big victory in the seven-year-long Syrian conflict.
Cranes from the state-run Dara’a municipal council erected a flag pole near the Grand Mosque where the eruption of protests in March 2011 was widely seen as heralding the start of the conflict.
As the birthplace of the Syrian war that erupted in 2011, Dara’a is both symbolically and militarily significant for the Syrian army because the rebels have been using the Jordanian border to bring in arms and fighters throughout the Syrian war. The surrender of Dara’a by the rebels to the Syrian army marks the begining of the end of nine year old war that has devastated the frontline Arab state.
As southern Syria is cleaned of rebels, Israel, more or less, has also gotten used to the idea of the expected result: The reestablishment of control by Syrian Arab Army over the entire region along the border with Israel. “The story is over,” a senior defense official told Israeli newspaper, The Haaretz. The Israeli Army’s Northern Command estimates the final push will take a few weeks, once the order is given.
The IDF’s deployment and preparations along the Syrian border focus on very specific things: reinforcing armored and artillery units and providing medical aid to the wounded rebels.
The Syrian Army was able to force the rebels to surrender the southern districts of Dara’a city after they completely isolated the militants around the provincial capital.
With nowhere to go, the rebels were ultimately left with no choice but to accept the terms offered by the Syrian government and Russian Reconciliation Center.
US backed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) allowed the Russian military police to enter the districts they control, as they begin the process of reconciliation.
In the next 48 hours, the FSA rebels are expected to handover their heavy and medium weapons to the Russian military police.
FSA does not want to reconcile with the Syrian government and the rival jihadist rebels from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham will be given safe passage to western Dara’a.
The flag raising ceremony in centre of Dara’a is a hugely symbolic move that supporters of Syrian government see as signalling the end of the revolt is near.
For many of the opponents, early peaceful protests about political freedoms and against authoritarian rule in a one-party system were violently repressed.
For the authorities, the protests, which began in Dara’a, were instigated by Washington, Israel and former colonial powers and financed by Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to force Syria to yield to Western pressure.
Rebels holed up in part of Daraa city are still in talks with Russian mediators, with many of them aiming to secure safe passage to last opposition-held areas of northern Syria, rebel officials said.
A rebel official told Reuters negotiations were proceeding smoothly, with the Russians so far abiding by the terms of a deal that includes weapons handovers, evacuation of rebels opposed to the deal and return of state sovereignty.
“Everyone is committed to the agreements,” said Abu Jihad, adding rebels had already begun since late Wednesday handing over their heavy weapons.
Rebels are pinning hopes on the Russian military police to prevent the army from taking revenge.
“There is a guarantee by the Russians that the army will not enter Daraa al Balad,” said Abu Bayan, a leader of a rebel faction in the city, referring to the name of the area.
Some 2,000 rebel fighters are holed up in the opposition-held part of Daraa city, along with their families. Many want to leave due to fear of how the government will treat them.
Reports meanwhile say more than 200,000 people have returned to their homes in the southern province of Dara’a over the past few days after the Syrian army expanded its control and captured 72 percent of the province, a monitor group reported Monday.
The people returned homes after fleeing toward the Syrian-Jordan border due to the military showdown which has been dragging on since June 19, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
With control over Daraa, government forces can now focus on clearing the last pockets of the opposition and, separately, the Islamic State group from the frontier at the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in a 1967 war.
The corner of southwest Syria is an important corridor for trade between Syria and Jordan, and onward to the oil-rich Gulf states. But most of the important fighting against the revolt has already been concluded in shattering battles farther to the north for the main cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs, and territories in between.
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