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Pro-Damascus commander: Syrian army is ready for a southern battle

SYRIA –┬áThe Syrian army has completed its preparations for an imminent attack on areas under the control of opposition fighters in southwestern Syria, raising the prospect of a new major escalation, a commander of a pro-Damascus military alliance said on Tuesday.

But a leader of a group of opposition fighters in Daraa, in southwestern Syria, told Reuters there were no signs of mobilization for such an attack and accused Damascus of launching a psychological war. He said opposition fighters had taken measures.

The opposition-controlled southwestern region of Syria became the spotlight after Syrian government forces crushed the last besieged pockets of the opposition near Damascus and north of the city of Homs with military support from Iran and Russia. Damascus has vowed to regain control of the entire country.

Syria’s southwestern region is important to the United States, which brokered last year with Jordan and Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a deal to “reduce the escalation” that has largely succeeded in containing the war near the border with Israel.

The United States issued a warning on Saturday of “tough and appropriate measures” in response to any violation of a ceasefire in that region.

Although Assad has the upper hand in the Syrian conflict, sections of land on the border with Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Israel are still out of control. The role of foreign powers in these areas complicates Damascus’ further gains.

“All the battles will be fought by the Syrian army, and now it is strong and capable,” the commander told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Israel wants to keep Iranian-backed forces away from areas close to its borders and from Syria in general. Iranian-backed Shi’ite factions, led by the Lebanese Hezbollah group, play a pivotal role in the fighting in support of Assad.

Russia said on Monday that only the Syrian army should be on the southern border with Jordan and Israel. Russia, the United States and Jordan have agreed to hold a meeting on the “reduction of escalation” area, the Russian news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying on Tuesday.

– “Psychological” –

An article published by the pro-Damascus newspaper Al-Watan said on Tuesday that a “looming” looming sign was imminent as the battle for Syrian south approached, adding that the battle was now in the final stages.

But Colonel Nessim Abu Ara, a leader of the opposition Sunni Arab Forces, told Reuters there were no signs of an impending attack.

“So far there are no indications. I’m talking from the frontline site … Until now the indicators do not suggest that there is an attack but there are rumors, there is a psychological war. ”

Abu Arra said last week that a number of military convoys had left areas under government control in Daraa to the north, adding that he believed they were forces backed by Iran being evacuated from the area. He stated that no alternative had been sent.

He pointed out that his group aspires to the United States and Jordan to position on the ground. “We take assurances from them that the southern region is subject to an agreement to reduce escalation and cease fire,” he said.

But he said his fighters had taken a number of measures and continued, “I assure you that the opposition forces have taken several measures … including digging trenches and tunnels to prevent the regime from carrying out any attack.”