Syria Army Widens Offensive on Rebel-Held Areas in Southwest by Qassim Abul Zahra and Albert Aji – Associated Press
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government troops advanced on rebel-held areas in the country's southwestern region amid intense clashes Saturday, state media and opposition activists said, in a widening offensive that has shattered a U.S.-backed truce.
Syrian State news agency SANA reported fierce clashes in al-Lujat area, a rocky region in the eastern countryside of Daraa. It said troops advancing from the adjacent Sweida province seized two villages, adding that the rebels responded by shelling government-held areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the government advances, saying they were accompanied by intense shelling and airstrikes. The Observatory said the escalation on the fifth day of the fighting left eight government troops dead, and 20 others wounded. Russia, the main backer of the Syrian government, said five Syrian soldiers were killed. Since Tuesday, at least 18 civilians and 10 rebel fighters have been killed, the Observatory said.
Washington warned the offensive in the region bordering Jordan and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights risks widening the conflict. It called on Russia to restrain its ally and warned of the repercussions of the fighting but didn't elaborate on how it intends to salvage the truce in place for nearly a year.
The de-escalation zone was negotiated by Russia, Washington and Jordan and has maintained calm in the strategic area since. But in recent weeks, the deal appeared to be unravelling as both the Syrian government and Israel turned to military means to achieve their goals…