DARAA, Syria

Syria’s Assad regime has launched a military operation in Daraa al-Balad, an area in the country’s southwest that has been under siege since late last month.

The regime has been using tanks and artillery fire since Wednesday in a bid to storm the district, which is home to some 40,000 people and was an opposition stronghold until a 2018 deal mediated by Russia, according to local activists.

Many civilians have been injured in the bombardment and the sole health center in the region has been closed down due to persistent attacks by the regime forces, Aymen Abu Nokta, spokesman for Horan Freedoms Community, a group founded by activists from Daraa, told Anadolu Agency.

“Regime forces are trying to enter Daraa al-Balad from three sides – Nahla, Kasad, and Doma,” he said.

“They are using mortars, tanks, and artillery fire to advance, while the locals and former opposition members are responding with light weapons.”

Lying in the Dara province, which is known as the birthplace of the Syrian revolution, Daraa al-Balad was blockaded by regime forces on June 25 after residents, including former members of the Syrian opposition, resisted an order to surrender their light weapons and allow regime forces to search houses in the area.

According to the Daraa-based Reconciliation Center and local figures, the order was opposed because it violated the terms of the 2018 deal, under which the area residents and ex-opposition members had to surrender all heavy weapons.

The deal allowed thousands of rebels and civilians safe passage to other opposition-held regions, while Russia-backed regime forces launched an attack to reclaim Daraa.

The regime kicked off its military action despite agreeing earlier this week to lift the blockade.

“People are fearful and have started to leave the area. At least 600 families have left their homes since yesterday,” Abu Nokta said, adding that they fear the offensive will lead to the displacement of all 40,000 residents of the area.

*Writing by Mahmoud Mohamed Barakat in Ankara

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