Syrian troops launch assault on Daraa as fighting nears Golan


Syria's army launched an assault on the flashpoint southern city of Daraa Tuesday, state media said, after a week of deadly bombardment on the nearby countryside caused mass displacement.

Backed by Russia, Syrian government forces have ramped up air strikes and ground attacks on rebel positions in the south, particularly its main province of Daraa.

Two Israeli missiles struck targets near Syria's Damascus airport early Tuesday, Assad regime media said, while a monitoring group said they hit arms depots for Hezbollah.

Its military has been carrying out strikes on Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria, with a U.S. official saying it was Israeli forces that carried out a deadly strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria on June 17.

"Our estimates are 45,000, maybe even higher", said Linda Tom, spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Syria. The strategic area was part of a truce deal reached last July between the United States, Russia and Jordan.

Government news agency SANA said the strikes were a prelude "before military units advance into the southeastern quarter of the city".

"We expect the number of displaced people could almost double as violence escalates", Bettina Luescher, spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), said at a briefing on Tuesday.

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Displaced families on Tuesday could be seen streaming out of rebel-held areas in trucks piled high with mattresses, furniture, and blankets.

For Assad, the latest push means government forces in the heart of Daraa province and those in adjacent Sweida province are now directly connected. A total of 29 rebels and 24 pro-government fighters have been killed so far.

The attack has fuelled concern of a new wave of displacement in a conflict that has already uprooted 11 million people, forcing millions overseas as refugees.

They say that being as close as possible to Israeli forces is the safest place to be, presumably because Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and Russian Federation are wary of drawing Israel further into the country's bloody civil war.

Civilians flee during airstrike by Syrian regime forces in the east of the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 24, 2018.

The Daraa region borders both Jordan and Israel.