Thousands more flee ‘earth-shattering’ bombs in Syria’s Deraa

As Syrian government forces step up offensive, families in the eastern side of Deraa head to ‘unequipped’ border areas.

Internally displaced people from Deraa province ride on a back of a truck near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra
At least a quarter of a million people have been displaced in southern Syria since June 19 [File: Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters]

Thousands of Syrians from a string of rebel-held towns in eastern Deraa have fled to an area overlooking the Jordanian border, as President Bashar al-Assad and his allies press on with their offensive to capture southwest Syria.

The flight of families on Thursday followed a series of intensive “earth-shattering” air strikes that targeted Deraa city and its surrounding areas, including the towns of Nassib, Om Elmiathin, Saida, al-Shayah and Tafas, activists and medics told Al Jazeera.

“The shelling doesn’t spare anyone. They [regime forces] don’t differentiate between civilians and military personnel, or between homes, mosques and hospitals,” Amer Abazeid, a spokesperson for the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera from Deraa city.

“Regime forces today used all kinds of weapons against these villages, including barrel bombs and surface-to-surface missiles,” he said.

At least six civilians have been killed in Thursday’s attacks, which began following a brief lull after negotiations between rebel factions and Russia broke down.

On June 19, Assad’s forces, along with Russian military assistance, began their offensive in Deraa and neighbouring Quneitra province.

The Civil Defence team in Deraa say they are still working on tallying the deaths, Abazeid noted.
“It has been increasingly challenging to do so without access to medical points,” he explained.

Last month, Syria’s air force targeted at least six hospitals and medical points across Deraa, making it challenging for medics to treat and tally wounded civilians, and those who lose their lives.

Targeting refugee camps

It is estimated that air raids launched by the government have killed more than 175 people so far.

The United Nations says the lives of more than 750,000 civilians are endangered by the ongoing fighting between government forces and the opposition. Rebels are now mostly situated in towns in the eastern front, close to border areas.

Kareem al-Aswad, an activist in Deraa city, said Thursday’s bombardment caused families to leave and gather in areas less than 1 kilometre away from the Jordanian border.

“Air strikes targeted open spaces in towns that lay along the lines adjacent to border areas,” al-Aswad told Al Jazeera from the outskirts of Deraa city.

“These spaces aren’t empty … They’re refugee camps,” he said.

“They have in the past 10 days become havens to displaced people who fled from different parts of Deraa,” al-Aswad added, describing the sounds of the bombs as “earth-shattering”.

The 23-year-old said many of his family members were among those who chose to leave, but some have opted to stay hoping negotiations would end well this time around.

Following days of failed negotiations mediated by Jordan, which has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire, rebel factions and Russia are expected to resume talks on Friday.

Lack of supplies

Around 320,000 people have been displaced since the offensive began last month.

While 60,000 people are struck at the Nassib-Jaber border crossing overlooking Jordan, thousands more are now along the western border with the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

But both Jordan and Israel say they will not be admitting refugees into their countries.

Mohammed Khalil and his family left Nassib for the border area 10 days ago.

The father of two, who has been displaced twice in the past several days, told Al Jazeera that thousands near the border were trying to cope under the scorching sun without access to basic supplies.

“Anyone here with a tent is considered lucky,” he said from the area separating the border crossings of the two countries.

According to him, several deaths have occurred due to infections from snakebites, which are common in desert areas. Without access to adequate medical equipment and antibiotics, many of these fatalities could not have been saved.

Khalil said he also witnessed a handful of deaths as a result of polluted water consumption.

“None of the international aid agencies are present here,” he said of the largely ‘unequipped’ area.

Though some aid provided by Jordanian citizens arrived on Wednesday, Khalil said it was barely enough for the tens of thousands of people – mostly women and children – currently at the border area.

Khalil, 23, hopes to return to Nassib in the near future.

“We don’t want anything,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a sense of lasting security and stability.”

Source: Al Jazeera