A pro-Assad commander has declared that, despite international efforts to avoid a confrontation in southern Syria, an offensive on opposition territory will proceed.
The “non-Syrian commander in a military alliance that backs Damascus” told Reuters on Tuesday of an imminent assault on Dara’a Province — where the Syrian uprising began in 2011 — and Quneitra Province, near the Jordanian border and the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.
In recent days, Russia and Israel have been maneuvering for an arrangement in which only regime forces — with no involvement from Hezbollah, Iranian units, or Iranian-led militia — carrying out the attacks. The Israelis have warned that any extension of the Iranian and/or Hezbollah presence in southern Syria could bring their military intervention.
The US weighed in last week, with the State Department warning of “firm and appropriate measures” if pro-Assad forces proceeded with an offensive.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed on Monday to a political process for rebel departure from the area. He did not discuss what measures would be taken if they refused.
Last July, Moscow and the US announced a “de-escalation zone” for Dara’a and Quneitra. Russia has broken de-escalation agreements to enable the Assad regime’s recapture of areas such as East Ghouta near Damascus last month; however, it faces difficulty in using its standard pretext — a supposed focus on attacks against the Islamic State or the jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham — in the southern case.
A rebel commander in Dara’a said there has been no sign of mobilization for an assault, accusing Damascus of waging psychological warfare.
The “non-Syrian commander” in the pro-Assad alliance indicated acceptance of the Russian-Israeli agreement while maintaining, “The Syrian army will wage all the battles and has now become strong and capable.”
The Assad regime’s forces have yet to win a major campaign in the seven-year conflict without significant Hezbollah and Iranian involvement on the ground and/or Russian airpower.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov reiterated on Tuesday:
We have well-known agreements concerning the southwestern de-escalation zone. Those agreements were concluded by Russia, the United States and Jordan. Israel was perfectly aware of them while they were still being drafted. They stipulate that the zone of de-escalation is expected to consolidate stability and that all non-Syrian forces must be pulled out of that area.
I believe this must happen as soon as possible. This is precisely what we are busy with now in cooperation with our Jordanian and US counterparts.