The Syrian army has entered and raised the government’s flag in the rebel-held city of Daraa – the first city to revolt against President Bashar Assad, sparking a brutal seven-year-long war.
State media reported that Syrian army units today (Thursday) erected the national flag in the cradle of the uprising, in the main square.
The display is laden with symbolism as the government moves to stamp out the last of the 2011 uprising against Assad, who has ruled with an iron fist over Syria for 18 years.
Syrian men waving their national flag, above, near the city council, after the raising of the government’s flag in the rebel-held city of Daraa
The Syrian national flag rises in the midst of damaged buildings in Daraa-al-Balad, an opposition-held part of the southern city of Daraa, today (July 12)
Officials accompanied by state media crews hoisted the two-star flag over the rubble of the city’s main square, allowing it to wave in sight of the shell of the Omari Mosque, where protesters first gathered in demonstrations demanding reforms and then Assad’s removal in the spring of 2011.
The mosque has since been destroyed in the government’s brutal crackdown against the city, which ranged from alleged torturing of dissidents to shelling the city with tanks and planes.
With control over Daraa, government forces can now focus on clearing the last pockets of the opposition and, separately, the Islamic State group from the frontier at the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in a 1967 war.
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) today shows Syrian men also waving the national flag near the city council
The corner of south-west Syria is an important corridor for trade between Syria and Jordan, and onward to the oil-rich Gulf states.
But most of the important fighting against the revolt has already been concluded in shattering battles farther to the north for the main cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, and territories in between.
Some 400,000 people have been killed in seven years of war.
Protests in Daraa in 2011 against the government’s mistreatment of teenage detainees ignited a national revolt against decades of authoritarian rule.
In this March 23, 2011 file photo, anti-Syrian government protesters flash Victory signs as they protest in the southern city of Daraa. Syrian activists and state media said today that the rebels have agreed to surrender Daraa to government forces
DEAL TO HAND OVER WEAPONS
On Wednesday, state media said opposition fighters and the regime had reached a deal for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons in Daraa al-Balad and other opposition-held parts of the city.
That deal come after a ceasefire announced last week stemmed nearly three weeks of regime bombardment on the symbolic wider province of the same name bordering Jordan.
The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province, including its symbolic capital where 2011 protests against President Bashar al-Assad are seen to have started the uprising that spiralled into civil war.
Russians forces are seen as displaced Syrians from the Daraa province come back to their hometown in Bosra, southwestern Syria, on July 11.The regime assault against Syria’s southern province of Daraa has pushed more than 320,000 people to flee their homes
ACTION DISMISSED AS ‘SYMBOLIC’
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the regime forces entering Daraa al-Balad on Thursday was merely ‘symbolic’.
Measures to implement the so-called reconciliation deal for rebel-held parts of the city had not yet been implemented, it said.
‘The rebels are still inside Daraa city,’ Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, but they had not yet handed over their heavy weapons and there were no signs of any evacuations.
Under the deal, ‘those (rebels) who want to settle their status with the regime will hand over their heavy weapons, keep their light arms and remain in the city’, he added.
A bus stops at a checkpoint as displaced Syrians from the Daraa province come back to their hometown in Bosra, southwestern Syria, on July 11, 2018
‘Those who refuse the deal will head out towards the north of Syria.’
The reconciliation deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the regime retake large parts of the country since 2015.
They usually follow blistering military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force the rebels into surrendering.
Previous such deals have seen thousands of rebels bused up to areas still under opposition control in the north of the country.