(AFP) BEIRUT, Lebanon — At least eight battered rebel-held towns in southern Syria returned to regime control under Russian-brokered deals on Saturday as air strikes killed at least 15 civilians, a monitor said.
Since June 19, backed by its ally Russia, the Damascus regime has carried out a deadly bombing campaign in southern Syria as it pushes to retake the strategic area bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
As of Saturday, government forces controlled more than half of Daraa, up from just 30 percent at the start of the operation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Eight towns in the province returned to regime control under Russia-brokered deals, the Observatory said.
That came “after talks in each town between Russian generals as well as local notables and remaining rebels,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The so-called “reconciliation” deals are the latest in a string of such agreements across the country that have seen the government retake opposition-held areas, often after devastating air and ground offensives.
These deals imposed by the regime often see opposition fighters hand over their heavy weapons and allow those who want to leave to board buses headed to rebel-held areas in the north of Syria.
Regime forces continued to bombard other parts of Daraa province on Saturday, with air strikes killing at least 15 civilians, according to the Observatory.
Unidentified air strikes killed 10 civilians including five children in the rebel-held town of Al-Sahwa, the Britain-based monitor said.
Regime air raids also took the lives of five non-combatants in the town of Ghasam.
State news agency SANA confirmed the deals for the five towns of Dael, Western Ghariya, Eastern Ghariya, Talul Khlayf and Tal al-Sheikh Hussein.
State television broadcast live images from Dael, showing residents holding up posters of President Bashar al-Assad and chanting slogans in support of the army.
The Observatory said the towns to return to government control also included Ibtaa, Um Walad and Eastern Karak.
With the deals in Daraa, the regime has further chipped away at a U-shaped patch of territory controlled by the rebels in southern Syria.
Retaking the whole of Daraa province would be a symbolic victory for the regime, as it is seen as the cradle of the anti-Assad uprising seven years ago that spiraled into civil war.
It would also allow the regime to reopen the Naseeb border crossing with neighboring Jordan and potentially resume lucrative trade across the frontier.