Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Syrian rebels set their sights on strategic south

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian rebels captured a military base in the south Wednesday and set their sights on seizing control of a strategically important region along the border with Jordan that would give them a critical gateway to attempt an attack on the capital, Damascus.

With foreign aid and training of rebels in Jordan ramping up, opposition fighters have regained momentum in their fight to topple President Bashar Assad.

But the fall of southern Syria might also create dangerous complications, potentially drawing Syria's neighbors into the 2-year-old civil war. Besides abutting Jordan, the region includes territory that borders Syria's side of the Golan Heights, along a sensitive frontier with Israel.

"This is a very sensitive triangle we are talking about," said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut. "The fall of Daraa, if it happens, may usher in strategic changes in the area."

For the rebels, control of the south is key to their advance toward Damascus. The significance of their gains in the south was shown Wednesday when the rebels stormed a military base after a five-day siege.

"Damascus will be liberated from here, from Daraa, from the south," declared an armed fighter, a rifle slung over his shoulder and a kaffiyeh tied around his face.

"We will march to the presidential palace from here," said another fighter, amid bursts of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great." Videos online showed rebels driving a Russian-made armored personnel carrier inside the base. "These missiles are now under our control," said a fighter, standing before a missile loaded on a truck.

A Western diplomat who monitors Syria from his base in Jordan said the fall of Daraa appeared imminent.

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