Syrian Army Advances Toward Deraa

Syrian Army Advances Toward DeraaSyrian Army Advances Toward Deraa

Syrian troops backed by heavy aerial bombardment pushed toward a strategic town in southern province of Deraa on Tuesday after capturing a nearby military base, the army said.

The Syrian Army said it retook Brigade 82, one of the largest bases north of the mainly rebel-held town of Sheikh Maskin, which was captured by rebels earlier this year. The army offensive toward Sheikh Maskin is part of the first major assault in southern Syria since Russia launched airstrikes on Sept. 30 to support its ally President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters reported.

The army also said in a news flash on state television it had recaptured the Al Hesh hills, northwest of Sheikh Maskin. The hilltop, which was held by the rebels for about a year, overlooks much of rebel-held western Deraa.

The aerial bombardment supporting Tuesday’s ground offensive appeared to be carried out by Russian jets, a monitoring group said.

Sheikh Maskin, which is the main goal of the army’s southern campaign, lies on one of the main supply routes from the capital Damascus to the city of Deraa, close to the border with Jordan.

The recapture of Sheikh Maskin, located at the heart of Deraa province, would consolidate the army’s hold over the heavily fortified region that has formed a southern line of defense protecting Damascus. A rebel of Falujat Hauran Brigade said rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch—the Nusra Front, were engaged in heavy fighting to prevent the town’s fall.

The south is the last major stronghold of the mainstream, anti-government opposition, who have been weakened elsewhere by the expansion of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in the east and north, and gains by the Nusra Front in the northwest.

North of Damascus, the army said on Tuesday it regained control of the town of Maheen, captured by IS last month, which is about 20 km from the highway running north from Damascus to the cities of Homs, Hama and Aleppo.