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Syria to take control of southern areas after reaching deal with militants

The Syrian government has reached a deal with militants in the southwestern province of Dara’a under which Damascus will retake control of the remaining cities and towns of the province from the anti-government forces.

The Friday deal came hours after the Syrian government regained control of the strategic Nassib border crossingwith Jordan after three years.

“An agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and the terrorist groups” which includes “the handover of heavy and medium weapons in all cities and towns,” the official SANA news agency reported.

Under the agreement, government forces will take over “all observation posts along the Syrian-Jordanian border,” the report said.

The militants who oppose the deal will be evacuated with their families to the militant-held northwestern province of Idlib, the report noted.

A previous round of negotiations to reach an agreement had failed on Wednesday, but the talks resumed midday on Friday in the town of Busra al-Sham, which was newly liberated by government troops.

Since mid-June, the Syrian government has launched a major military campaign to recapture the militant-held areas in southern Syria near the Jordanian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, including Dara’a province, together with the neighboring provinces of Quneitra and Suwaida.

During the push, the government first tried to clinch surrender deals with the terrorists before staging anti-terror operations.

Although the Syrian government’s offensive targeted parts of Quneitra and Suwaida provinces, the new deal only includes Dara’a province.

SANA said the deal would ensure the return of displaced civilians, which according to the UN, exceeds 320,000 people.

Militant spokesman Hussein Abazeed said in an interview with AFP that “the deal was the best we could achieve to save the lives of our fighters”.

Under similar reconciliation deals, which are mediated by Russia, militants hand over heavy weapons, local police take control of the area and government institutions resume activities.

By virtue of such deals, more than 30 militant-held towns have come under the government control, making Damascus’ hold on Dara’a province nearly 70 percent.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian forces and civilian border officials from the Syrian government reached the Nassib crossing “without a fight.”

SANA reported that Syria’s two-starred flag has been hoisted over the crossing.

Militants had captured the Nassib border crossing since April 2015, blocking a crucial economic lifeline for the Syrian government.

Syria’s southwest region is strategically sensitive because of its proximity to the frontiers with both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The territory’s liberation would cut the much-reported collaboration between Israel and militants and deal a blow to Tel Aviv’s plans to consolidate its grip on the Golan Heights, which has been used by the regime to treat wounded militants for years.

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