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US warns Syria of ‘firm’ action over offensive in de-escalation zone

By AFP - May 26,2018 - Last updated at May 26,2018

A rebel fighter stands amid the rubble of destroyed buildings in the rebel-held area of Daraa in southern Syria (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON — The US has warned Damascus it would take "firm" action if the regime of Bashar Assad violates a ceasefire deal, after Syrian aircraft dropped leaflets on a southern province ahead of an expected offensive.

Residents of Daraa told AFP on Friday that several different leaflets were scattered across the province, which has borders with Israel and Jordan, and is expected to be among the next targets in the resurgent regime's reconquest.

One of them, seen by a journalist contributing to AFP in the city of Daraa, includes a picture showing lined up bodies, presumably of anti-government fighters.

"This is the inevitable fate of anyone who insists on carrying arms," reads the leaflet.

The US State Department issued a statement late Friday saying it was "concerned" by the reports and that the area in question was within the boundaries of a de-escalation zone it had negotiated with Russia and Jordan last year.

“We also caution the Syrian regime against any actions that risk broadening the conflict or jeopardise the ceasefire,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that the ceasefire had been re-affirmed by President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Vietnam in November.

“As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” she added.

Syrian regime and allied forces on Monday retook the Yarmouk area in southern Damascus, giving President Bashar Assad full control of the capital and its surroundings for the first time since 2012.

Daraa’s location makes any broad operation there very sensitive, with Israel suspecting Damascus’ Iranian allies of seeking to establish a military footprint closer to its borders.

Government and allied forces control about 30 per cent of Daraa, the rest of which is held by various factions, including a small contingent of fighters from the Daesh militant group.

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