Syria Vows to Fight Rebels Despite U.S. Warning Not to Advance Southwest

The United States, Russia, and Jordan agreed last year to include Daraa in a 'de-escalation zone' and freeze the lines of conflict which are near the Israeli border

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Nov. 20, 2017
Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

A Syrian state-run newspaper said Monday that the government will keep fighting “terrorists” despite U.S. warnings against a new offensive against rebels in southern Daraa province, while Russia said Syrian troops should deploy in the country’s southwest, near Israel.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Syrian troops should be positioned on the border with the Golan Heights, which have been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Mideast war. The area between Daraa and the Golan Heights has emerged as a flashpoint in a wider standoff between Israel and Iran, and the United States has warned it will take action to protect a cease-fire there.

The Al-Baath daily said in an editorial published Monday that the U.S. threat underscores the “dirty American role in the terrorist war” against Syria. It stressed that the Syrian army was determined to retake all parts of Syria.

The United States, Russia, and Jordan agreed last year to include Daraa in a “de-escalation zone” and freeze the lines of conflict there. But the area has been tense following a series of recent Israeli strikes on Syrian and Iranian forces. Iran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and its advisers are embedded with his troops.

Israel has warned it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Earlier this month, it carried out a wave of airstrikes in response to what it said was an Iranian rocket attack on its positions in the Golan. It was the most serious confrontation between the regional archrivals to date.

Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that “the agreement on forming a de-escalation area in southwestern Syria envisaged the eventual withdrawal of all non-Syrian forces from this part of Syria.”

He added that the Russian and U.S. militaries have maintained regular contacts on the issue.

“The result of the ongoing work should be a situation in which troops of the Syrian Armed Forces will be stationed alongside the Syrian border with Israel,” he said.

Syrian government forces recently dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Daraa, warning of an imminent offensive and urging the insurgents to lay down their arms.

The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which has reporters embedded with Syrian troops, said the army is sending reinforcements to southern Syrian in an apparent preparation for an offensive.