TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Syrian militants reached a deal with Russian officers on a phased handover of their weapons and the deployment of Russian military police near the Jordanian border, a rebel spokesman said on Friday.
Ibrahim Jabawi said the agreement was reached during ongoing talks in a town in southern Syria that also includes a cessation of hostilities by both sides.
Ahead of the talks, armored vehicles and a tank with a Russian flag were seen heading towards the Nasib Border Crossing between Jordan and Syria, several witnesses near the crossing said, according to The National.
They said they spotted a convoy on a military road heading towards the crossing in rebel hands which the Syrian army has been advancing towards since Thursday.
Government forces in south Syria have advanced along the Jordanian border, seizing a string of villages.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK based monitoring group, said government forces had reached the Jordanian frontier in Daraa province on Thursday for the first time since 2015, part of a major offensive to recover the entire southwest from rebels.
The offensive has swept into swathes of rebel-held territory in Daraa province, helped by heavy Russian air strikes.
The UN refugee agency has urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians fleeing their homes. It says the fighting has uprooted more than 320,000 people, with 60,000 gathered at the Jordan border crossing and thousands more at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Norwegian Refugee Council says it is the largest displacement since the start of the seven-year war.
The Observatory said an armed group that had controlled some border villages had handed over control to the advancing government forces without putting up resistance.
Militants in the battered south met with Russian negotiators on Friday after a ferocious 24-hour bombing blitz pushed them to agree to resume talks.
Moscow, a key ally of Damascus, has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender of militants in areas of southern Syria.
The negotiations collapsed on Wednesday, with rebels blaming Russia, ushering in a day-long volley of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles that ultimately pressured rebels to return to the table.
"The rebel delegation is on its way to the meeting," Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the south's joint rebel command, told AFP mid-morning Friday.
He accused Russia of pursuing a "scorched earth policy" to force rebels back into negotiations.
The joint command said on Thursday it would be willing to hold "a new round of negotiations" if a halt to hostilities was immediately put into place.
As rebels made their announcement, bombardment died down across swathes of the south, according to an AFP correspondent on the outskirts of Daraa city and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
By Friday morning, intermittent strikes and barrel bombs were hitting Daraa province's eastern countryside but overall the raids were less intense than the previous day.
After securing areas around the capital this year, President Bashar al-Assad last month turned to the south, launching a bombing campaign on rebel areas on June 19.
Under such deals, rebels hand over heavy weapons, local police take control of the area and government institutions resume working there.
More than 30 towns have agreed to fall back under regime control through these agreements, doubling the government's hold on Daraa province to around two-thirds.
On Thursday, the Syrian forces made sweeping advances on the border with Jordan, seizing their first security post there in more than three years, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Rebels then handed over some 275 square kilometers of border territory without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
But rebels still hold Daraa's western countryside, the southern half of the divided provincial capital, and the prized Nassib border crossing.
The Observatory said the Syrian forces had moved closer to Nassib on Friday.
Rebel territory in the south was included in a ceasefire brokered last year by Russia, the United States, and Jordan, but that has done little to stem the violence.
On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council convened in an urgent closed-door meeting to discuss the south, but Russia blocked the council from adopting a statement.