Government air raids pound rebel holdout in southwest Syria
Syrian army’s campaign intensifies as Nawa, the largest urban centre still held by rebels in Deraa, comes under attack.
Syrian government forces have unleashed an intense bombing campaign on the densely-populated southwestern town of Nawa, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 100, according to activists and rescuers.
The air raids, which were launched on Tuesday and continued on Wednesday, hit the rebel-held city’s only hospital, rendering it non-operational and causing dozens of reported casualties.
The bombardment is part of the government’s military offensive – which it began on June 19 – on the remaining opposition pockets in the southwestern region, which includes Deraa and Quneitra provinces that straddle the border with Jordan and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Nawa, home to at least 100,000 people, is the largest urban centre still controlled by rebels in Deraa province.
Wednesday’s attacks focused on towns and villages surrounding the town, making the road in and out of it deadly, according to a local activist who goes by the name Selma Mohammed.
Khaled Solh, head of the local Syria Civil Defense known as White Helmets, a rescue group operating in rebel-held areas of Syria, said they documented the killing of 14 people.
Only one ambulance was able to get to the town and civilians relied on their cars to bring out at least 150 wounded, added Solh. He said one of the last orthopedists in the town was killed in an air raid.
The attacks intensified after talks to cede the town failed on Tuesday, triggering a new wave of displacement.
“We’ve been witnessing an intensive air strike campaign throughout the day – our team has counted at least 100 air strikes that are retaliation from the Syrian government forces,” Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Golan Heights, said on Wednesday.
“This is all part of the Syrian government’s campaign to get this area back from the rebels,” she added.
‘Trapped between closed borders’
As the bombing intensified, images from across the frontier in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights showed large plumes of smoke rising over the Nawa area.
According to Dekker, the bombardment “is very close to the tents of the internally displaced Syrian people” who gathered along the border in makeshift camps following the renewed fighting in the southwestern provinces.
The government offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open.
Jordan said it will not take in new refugees and Israeli soldiers shooed away dozens of protesters who approached the frontier on Tuesday demanding protection.
“These people are now trapped between closed borders and between the Syrian government advances,” said Dekker.
“They are still in rebel-held territory. Having lived under the opposition for about four years, they are terrified of what will happen to them if there is any sort of retaliation from the Syrian government forces,” explained Dekker.
In less than a month, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have been able to seize control of most of southwestern Deraa province, including the provincial capital of the same name.
The city of Deraa was the cradle of the uprising against Assad more than seven years ago.
Alongside the military offensive, the government has struck “reconciliation” deals, essentially a negotiated capitulation in a number of villages that have been in rebel hands for years, to restore government control there.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES