Syria government, rebels reach deal on south

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian regime on Friday reached a ceasefire deal with rebels in the country’s south, the official SANA news agency said.

“An agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and the terrorist groups” that includes “the handover of heavy and medium weapons in all cities and towns”, it said.

The deal comes two weeks into a devastating Russian-backed government offensive on rebel-held areas of southern Syria close to Jordan and the Golan Heights.

Moscow, a key ally of the Damascus regime, has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender.

Fighters who reject the agreement will be evacuated with their families to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, it added.

The deal also provides for government forces to take over “all observation posts along the Syrian-Jordanian border”, it said, hours after the regime regained control of the vital Nassib border crossing with Jordan.

The assault has pushed more than 320,000 people to flee, but SANA said the deal would see them return to their homes.

Rebel spokesman Hussein Abazeed told AFP that “the deal was the best we could achieve to save the lives of our fighters.”

It came after the collapse of a previous round of talks on Wednesday ushered in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.

The talks resumed at around midday on Friday in the town of Busra al-Sham, freshly recaptured by government troops.

Moscow, which intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, has employed a carrot-and-stick strategy of intense bombardment alongside talks that has allowed the regime to recapture significant territory.

Under such deals, rebels hand over heavy weapons, local police take control of the area and government institutions resume working there.

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