Both Jordan and the US may be on the verge of accepting a pro-Assad offensive to retake opposition areas in southern Syria, only days after the US promised “firm and appropriate measures” against any assault.
Russia, the Assad regime’s essential ally, pointed towards the possibility as Moscow said that it is holding talks with the Jordanians.
“South Syria will be discussed at the bilateral level with Jordan for the time being, and its Foreign Minister will visit Moscow for this purpose,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bagdanov said. “There is ongoing coordination between the two sides now to determine the date of the visit.”
Bogdanov also said that he hoped to discuss the situation in Syria with John Bolton during the National Security Advisor’s trip to Moscow on Wednesday. Bolton will also meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The US and Jordan are both part of the Military Operations Command in Amman, which nominally has provided assistance to rebels in southern Syria. However, the MOC has sharply reduced its backing since 2015, blocking operations by the Southern Front and standing aside as pro-Assad forces retook opposition territory.
The situation is being brought to a head by the Assad regime’s efforts to recapture opposition areas in Daraa and Quneitra Provinces, near the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, following its recapture of the East Ghouta region near Damascus in April.
Daraa and Quneitra are supposedly a “de-escalation zone” announced by the US and Russia last July, but Moscow has broken other zones to enable pro-Assad advances, including in East Ghouta and parts of northwest Syria.
Pro-opposition activists said over the weekend that Russian warplanes have joined the Assad regime’s shelling and bombing of eastern Daraa Province, which escalated last Tuesday. Missiles were fired on Sunday upon Daraa city, the site of the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, and barrel bombs were dropped for the first time yesterday.
Despite four public warnings since late May against any pro-Assad assault, the US sent a message — via its Embassy in Amman — to rebels last weekend that they should not expect any American support.
Trapping the Civilians
The Jordanian Government said on Monday that it will not accept any people fleeing the pro-Assad offensive.
Spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said Jordan has already taken large numbers of Syrian refugees and “we simply cannot receive more”. She said Amman is working with the Russia and the US to protect its national interests.
The UN said last week that more than 11,000 civilians had been displaced from eastern Daraa Province in the first four days of the offensive. The Assad regime has restricted movement by sealing off neighboring Suweida Province.
About 660,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Jordan, but Amman says the actual number is twice as high. The Kingdom officially closed its border in 2016, stranding about 75,000 people in camps in the Rukban area just inside Syria.
Amnesty International responded in a statement:
People fleeing war in Syria are in a desperate life-or-death situation, and the Jordanian government cannot simply abandon them.
Jordan has a duty to protect refugees from Syria fleeing conflict and persecution, and to allow them to enter the country. Closing the border to people in need of protection violates Jordan’s international obligations….
The Jordanian government must open its border to those fleeing Syria, and the international community must provide full and meaningful support to Jordan and other countries in the region that are hosting large numbers of refugees who have fled from Syria.