Opposition figures in southern Syria have said talks with Russian officers for a peace deal with the government have failed after they rejected Moscow’s demands to surrender, rebel negotiators said.
A government’s offensive this month in southwest Syria has taken much of the eastern part of Deraa province from rebels, backed by a bombardment that the United Nations says has pushed 160,000 people out of their homes.
The meeting on Saturday in the town of Bosra al-Sham was aimed to try to agree on a deal for all of Deraa province to come back under government sovereignty, but without the army or police entering the area.
The talks collapsed, however, as the fighters rejected Russia’s proposed terms for their surrender, a rebel spokesman said.
“The meeting ended in failure. The Russians were not ready to listen to our demands. They offered one option, to accept their humiliating demand to surrender, which was rejected,” Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
‘Syrian army enters towns’
Jordan has been facilitating talks between rebel factions and Moscow over a deal that would end the violence in exchange for the return of state rule in Deraa province on its border.
Russian negotiators demanded rebels accept terms like those agreed for Eastern Ghouta, where fighters either left for opposition territory in the northwest along with their families or accepted the return of state rule, Jabawi had said earlier.
The southwest rebels did not accept the proposal, and were instead proposing the return of civilian state institutions in the opposition areas and the entry of Russian military police rather than Syrian government forces.
However, the army has already captured large parts of the eastern zone of rebel-held territory in Deraa province in less than two weeks of fighting, and several more towns still held by the opposition fighters have reportedly agreed to settle with Assad.
On Saturday, state television said the town of al-Ghariya al-Sharqiya had accepted a “reconciliation” agreement with the government, and the national flag had been raised there.
It said on Friday that four other towns nearby had agreed to surrender their arms and accept state rule. The army had gained control over the towns of al-Harak, Ibta and Rakham, it said, and a rebel said opposition lines in one area had collapsed.
‘Tired and exhausted’
The UN said on Friday that the surge in fighting over the past few days had led to the displacement of an estimated 160,000 people – more than three times as previously reported.
Syrians fleeing the fighting and heading towards neighbouring Jordan have been denied entry, with authorities there saying they do not have the resources to deal with a new wave of refugees.
“Jordan already has 1.3 million Syrians. Our country has reached its maximum capacity. Jordan has been shouldering this responsibility, and I must say, we’ve been doing so alone,” Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi said on Thursday.
Karl Schembri, from the Norwegian Refugee Council, says aid agencies are ready to help, if Jordan lets the refugees cross its border.
“We know that they are lacking the most basics: water, food, even shelter,” he told Al Jazeera from Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“They are stranded there and they are facing some of the most dire conditions – it’s summer now, it’s getting hotter, and they’ve been fleeing from extreme escalation of fighting in their areas. They are tired, exhausted and we still can’t reach them.”
Schembri issued an appeal to the international community not to abandon Jordan and the Syrians escaping the fierce fighting.
“Jordan needs all the help possible in this moment of crisis. It is also going through a very tough economic moment, with a lot of unemployment and people who are on the poverty line so, of course, Jordan needs all this solidarity together with the Syrians who are now fleeing this fighting that has decimated their neighbourhoods.”