Russia-Backed Syrian Forces Take Key Border Site After Deal With Rebels

Syrian government forces supported by Russian military police have taken over a key border crossing with Jordan after a deal was reached between rebels and Russian mediators, Syrian state media and a war monitor say.

The SANA news agency on July 6 said government troops took the Naseeb border post late on July 5, more than three years after rebels had seized the site near the city of Daraa.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors activity in the seven-year Syrian civil war, confirmed that Syrian forces had taken the border crossing.

"Cars carrying Russian military police and representatives of the Syrian government's border administration entered the Naseeb crossing without a fight," observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

"The rebels, by leaving Daraa, would be losing one of their last strongholds in Syria," he added.

State television footage showed government tanks rolling toward the border crossing, which the rebels seized from Syrian forces in April 2015.

Rebels earlier had announced they were close to striking a deal with Moscow over the handover to Syrian forces of some 30 towns in the strategic zone of Syria that borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Ibrahim Jabbawi, a spokesman for the rebels’ Central Command in southern Syria, said the organization’s leaders had agreed with Russian military officers on a gradual handover of their weapons and the deployment of Russian military police near the border in Daraa.

"The agreement includes a cessation of hostilities by both sides," Jabbawi said.

Opposition sources told the German dpa news agency that rebels who wanted to leave Daraa would be allowed to take their light weapons and move to areas controlled by Turkish-backed rebels in northern Syria.

Russian-backed Syrian forces had launched an offensive in southern Syria two weeks ago.

International monitors said that more than 320,000 people have fled the attacks and have been forced to sleep in open spaces or makeshift shelters near the border.

Talks briefly collapsed on July 4 after a blitz of Russian and Syrian air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles, following a pattern Russia and Syria have pursued repeatedly to regain control over rebel territory.

The rebel-held area in southern Syria was included in a cease-fire zone established last year in a deal between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the government's assault.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's goal is to recapture Syria's entire southwest, one of the last rebel strongholds in the country.

U.S. forces have backed rebels fighting Assad's government during the civil war.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa