Stakes Rising In Southern Syria As Russian Jets Conduct Strikes Near ‘De-escalation’ Zones

Russian jets for the first time took part in an intensifying assault by pro-Syrian regime forces to recapture strategic rebel-held areas along the Israeli and Jordanian borders. According to reports, at least twenty Russian air strikes were conducted on the town of Busra al Harir, located northeast of Deraa. Syrian troops over the past week have made do with artillery and rocket fire, whereas Russian warplanes critical to Assad’s retaking of other regions in the country—in particular his recent consolidation of control over the capital Damascus—had not been deployed in the offensive until this weekend. Now, the stakes are being raised in southwest Syria, where a U.S.-Russia-Jordan-brokered ceasefire agreement that created so-called “de-escalation” zones has largely held for the past year. An emboldened Assad has vowed to retake these areas along the frontier, prompting Washington to warn of “serious repercussions” if the truce is violated. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday asserted that the prospective Syrian operation “unambiguously violates” the agreement, adding that “Russia will ultimately bear responsibility for any further escalations in ‎Syria.”

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