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Dara’a agreement vital to avert regional escalation

Agreement outline calls for return of Syrian army to the area with a zone free from Iran-backed forces

Gulf News

Dubai: As Syrian army reinforcements continue to arrive in southern Syria, analysts warn of a violent escalation in the area if an agreement isn’t reached soon to defuse it.

The southern area of Dara’a, known as the “cradle of the revolution” in Syria, sits on the intersection of Jordan and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The absence of a negotiated deal in the area means a “full-scale Syrian military offensive” that would come at a terrible cost for Syria and its people, Jordan, Israel, Iran and Russia, the International Crisis Group said in a report that was released Thursday.

In its recent report entitled “Keeping the Calm in Southern Syria”, the Crisis Group concluded that, “all sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome”.

South western Syria has been “protected” since July 2017 by a de-escalation agreements negotiated by US, Russia and Jordan.

However, there was no deal beyond a ceasefire which has been violated several times as government air strikes have hit the city.

After recapturing all opposition enclaves in greater Damascus and outside Homs, Syrian regime forces are heading south to end the presence of the opposition in both Dara’a, near the Jordanian borders, and Quneitra, near the Israeli-occupied areas.

“Military activity (in this area) would be particularly explosive,” the Crisis Group warns.

Israel has repeatedly declared its opposition to the presence of the Iranian troops and their allies from the Lebanese group of Hezbollah to supporting Syrian government troops close to its borders.

Israel launched series of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in recent months.

While Russia had been trying to secure a deal over Dara’a, Syria’s pro-government Al Watan daily has reported that Israeli-Russian talks had failed.

The outline of an agreement, includes the return of the Syrian army to the area and the establishment of a zone ‘parallel to the Golan free of Iran-backed forces’.

An offensive on Dara’a and Quneitra risks renewed clashes between Israel and Iran, but could also send new waves of refugees towards the Jordanian border.

“There is a basis for a consensual deal, at least involving the Syrian government and these outside countries. It’s difficult to see a good outcome for the Syrian opposition in the southwest, but we’re arguing for something that could prevent the bloodiest end for the southwest’s residents,” Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst Sam Heller told Gulf News.

“There is little international appetite to support southern rebels, and on their own they likely can’t hold out. Particularly if Russia manages to build on its rough understanding with Israel and keep Israel from obstructing a Syrian military offensive, the Syrian state is almost certainly on its way back to the southwest.”

 

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