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Jordan to hold talks with Russia over Syria's Deraa province

Renewed fighting along Jordan's northern border prompted fears of a new wave of refugees headed towards its territory.

Jordan is set to hold talks with Russia this week over the situation in southern Syria and alleviating the humanitarian situation there, Jordan's foreign minister said.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Monday he will meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow later in the week to discuss developments in Deraa province, near Jordan's border.

On Sunday, rebels in the strategically located town of Bosra al-Sham in Syria's southern Deraa province surrendered to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.  

Talks leading up to the agreement - which stipulates the opposition handing over heavy weaponry to the government - were mediated by neighbouring Jordan.

Renewed fighting along Jordan's northern border has prompted a new wave of refugees headed towards its territory. 

Launched on June 19, the Syrian government's push is intended to recapture the southern provinces of Deraa, Quneitra and parts of Sweida, still mostly held by opposition fighters.

Backed by Russian air support, forces loyal to al-Assad have retaken control of lost territory and continue to progress southwards where the last pockets of opposition remain.

Syrians fleeing the fighting and heading towards Jordan have been denied entry, with authorities there saying they do not have the resources to deal with more refugees.

"Jordan already has 1.3 million Syrians. Our country has reached its maximum capacity. Jordan has been shouldering this responsibility, and I must say, we've been doing so alone," Safadi said on Thursday.

Karl Schembri, from the Norwegian Refugee Council, said aid agencies were ready to help if Jordan lets the refugees cross its border.

"We know that they are lacking the most basics; water, food, even shelter," Schembri said from the capital Amman.

"They are stranded there and they are facing some of the most dire conditions - it's summer now, it's getting hotter and they've been fleeing from extreme escalation of fighting in their areas. They are tired, exhausted and we still can't reach them."

'Attempting to impose conditions'

The government's offensive has undermined a "de-escalation" agreement negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan in July 2017.

Until recently, the deal contained fighting in the southwest of Syria. 

Al-Assad said earlier this month that he was still pursuing a political solution for Syria's rebel-held southwest, but would use military force if the effort failed.

Responding to Assad's statements, the US state department said on June 14 that any government assault would "broaden the conflict" and threatened "firm and appropriate measures in response".

Washington has yet to respond to recent developments. Last week, rebels said it had told them not to expect any US military support.

The opposition's chief negotiator in wider UN peace talks, Nasr al-Hariri, last week accused the US of complicity in al-Assad's southwest offensive, saying US silence could only be explained by "a malicious deal".

Bolstered by a string of victories across southern Syria, al-Assad's chief backer Russia has been reluctant to yield to the opposition's demands.

"The Russian insistence on attempting to impose conditions, their unreadiness to stop the air strikes during negotiations, all this gives us more reason for a lack trust and justified fear," Adnan Masalmeh, a coordinator of an opposition committee steering the negotiators told Reuters news agency. 

Diplomatic sources say that wider negotiations were difficult, with Russia insisting on sweeping surrender terms and rebels seeking an agreement that would make Jordan a guarantor of the safety of Deraa province's 800,000 civilians.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Friday that the surge in fighting over the past two days had led to the displacement of an estimated 160,000 people.


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