UPDATE 1400 GMT: Pro-Assad forces have made more advances in eastern Daraa Province amid “uncountable” air and artillery strikes.

The offensive has taken the town of al-Mleiha and is at the entrance of al-Herak, which has been intensely bombed today.

At least 20 people have reportedly been killed in the town of al-Musayfrah alone. Photos of slain children have been posted.

Churches have been damaged in the bombardment:

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UPDATE 1140 GMT: Russian officials have lied again about opposition preparations for a “false flag” chemical attack, this time on Idlib Province in northwest Syria.

Moscow has used the tactic repeatedly, both to cover for imminent Assad regime attacks or for those that have taken place in pro-Assad offensives backed by Russian airpower. The false claims were made this spring during the recapture of East Ghouta near Damascus, trying to deny the regime’s chemical assaults, including a double attack that killed about 50 people in the city of Douma on April 7.

See Yes, Assad Regime Carried Out Chemical Attack on Douma — A Multi-Media Investigation
Fog of Trolls: Pro-Assad Misinformation Over Douma Chemical Attacks

The latest ploy is by the Russian “Center for Reconcilation” which combined the disinformation with the campaign to smear the White Helmets civil defense organization. Citing “locals”, Maj. Gen. Aleksey Tsygankov said the “notorious” rescuers brought “missiles and canisters containing unknown substances, as well as protective gear and filming equipment” in a convoy of six vehicles to the town of Ma’arat al-Num’an over the weekend.

The disinformation is featured on Russian State outlet RT today.

In April 2017, the Assad regime used sarin on the nearby town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing about 90 people and wounding hundreds. Russia was unable to prevent international inspectors attributing blame to the regime, but it used a Security Council veto to block the inspectors from doing so in future.

UPDATE 0830 GMT: Regime and Russian airstrikes are expanding farther this morning to southern Daraa Province, including near Herak, northeast of Daraa city:

The international medical organization UOSSM reports another casualty among its staff as its facilities are bombed across Daraa:

Syrian State media is continued to lie about the targets of the attacks, saying that bombing of the southeast of Daraa city was on “movements and supply routes of Jabhat al-Nusra”.

Jabhat al-Nusra has no significant presence in Daraa Province, let alone Daraa city, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

Claimed footage inside al-Herak:

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Enabled by Russian bombing, pro-Assad forces advanced in their offensive against the opposition area of southern Syria on Wednesday.

Defying its own “de-escalation zone”, announced with the US last July, Russia joined the offensive last weekend with airstrikes. The pro-Assad ground assault, despite intense bombardment, had made little progress in its first four days.

But yesterday, with strikes extending across Daraa Province, local sources reported that the pro-Assad forces are advancing. Humanitarian activist Omar al-Hariri summarized that the Assad regime and its allies “took control of several towns and villages…[with] the use of scorched earth policy, forcing tens of thousands to flee”.

Hariri said that, with the spread of attacks, the number of displaced in the past nine days — estimated by the UN to be up to 50,000 — is now 150,000 and rising. Medical facilities have been struck and knocked out of service, with the services in the towns of Saida, Jizah, and Musayfira struck on Wednesday.

The activist reported that 131 people have been killed since the start of the offensive on June 19.

“No Place to Go”

Emad Batin, the Vice President of the Daraa Provincial Council, said local officials estimated that “more than 120,000” residents had fled by Wednesday afternoon.

“There is no place to go, we left our village in great haste without taking any clothes or food,” said Um Khalid, who left the town of Alma for the nearby town of a-Giza this week. She and her four children are temporarily in a relative’s home alongside 15 other family members.

But hours after she spoke, a-Giza was bombed, with a local field hospital knocked out of service.

Jordan, which hosts more than 660,000 registered refugees, has shut its border to any of the displaced.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said last month, after meetings with Israeli officials, that all “non-Syrian forces” should withdraw from Daraa and Quneitra Provinces, near the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. But the Russian Defense Ministry has covered Moscow’s change of approach with the pretext that the airstrikes are a “response to violations by extremist terrorist groups against Syrian government forces”.

See Syria Daily, June 27: Russia — We Will Join Pro-Assad Offensive on South

The US, which had said on four occasions before last weekend that it would take “firm” measures in response to any pro-Assad offensive, has made no statement about the Russian intervention. National Security Advisor John Bolton met Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday: no details were given of the discussion on Syria.

“A Full-Scale Ground Offensive”

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura — who has spent recent weeks with Russia, Turkey, and Iran on a supposed political process for the 87-month Syrian conflict — said, “We see a full-scale ground offensive and aerial bombardment.” He said the damage and displacement of population could be similar to that of eastern Aleppo city in late 2016 and East Ghouta near Damascus this spring, where Russian attacks enabled pro-Assad takeovers.

Even this was too much for the Assad regime’s ambassador, Bashar al-Ja’afari, who assailed de Mistura “Is this within the mandate of the special envoy, your excellencies?” He said the envoy had neglected the fight against terrorism, with the insistence that Islamic State fighters and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra were in the area, protected by “the Americans, the Israelis, and others”.

Jabhat al-Nusra, now part of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, has no significant presence in Daraa Province. A local faction linked to ISIS, Khalid ibn al-Walid, has a pocket in western Daraa, far from the sites of the initial pro-Assad and Russian attacks on opposition territory.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia maintained the pretext, “The cities of Daraa and Sweida, as well as residential areas that have embraced de-escalation, are being subjected to shelling by jihadis.”

US representative Jonathan Cohen noted that the largest opposition force is the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army:
“To be clear, the unilateral operations underway by the Assad regime and Russia in southwest Syria represent a violation of the ceasefire arrangement reaffirmed by President Trump and President Putin.”

But Cohen gave no indication of any US action to check the offensive.