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South Syria rebels reportedly
promised air cover

A Syrian jet goes down in flames over Quneitra. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

BEIRUT – Free Syrian Army rebels in southern Syria have reportedly been promised “Arab air cover” as they ramp up their military campaign against the regime.

 

“Rebel factions in the area are preparing for large-scale military operations and have received promises of Arab air cover, or at least the provision of anti-aircraft rockets,” a source in the FSA told Alaraby Aljadeed in an article published Tuesday.

 

The source—an officer in the FSA’s Yarmouk Army who preferred to remain anonymous—said that the factions might not wait longer than a week to launch the new offensives, even if the promised air support was not provided by then.

 

The London-based daily also spoke with an official in the FSA-affiliated Southern Front coalition of rebels who echoed the claims of the Yarmouk Army officer.

 

“There have been serious signals that the Southern Front will receive Arab support within days,” Southern Front Military Command member Ayman Alaasmi told the paper.

 

The report comes days after former Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri, who is close to the Saudi royal family, told Arab reporters in a closed meeting in Washington that “air cover” for rebels in the southern and northern Syria was inevitable.

 

The Lebanese political leader stressed that “such action could come regardless of Washington’s position,” Al-Arabiya television reported.

 

In recent weeks regional powers have moved to unify their efforts against the Assad regime, after years of divisions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has manifested itself as splits between rebels in Syria.

 

The Huffington Post reported on April 12 that Saudi Arabia was in “high-level talks” with Turkey, brokered by Qatar, to bolster the non-jihadist opposition in Syria by the deployment of Saudi air strikes combined with Turkish ground troops on northern Syrian soil.

 

Meanwhile, Pro-Syrian regime daily Al-Akhbar said last week that a regional agreement was especially likely “as a number of reports have spoken of a new phase of coordination between the Saudi and Turkish players.”

 

Rebel gains in the south

 

FSA-affiliated rebels in southern Syria have made strong gains against the regime in recent weeks and have opened two fronts on highways leading into the Syrian capital.

 

The FSA’s First Army announced Monday the start of the “Battle of the Cutting of Joints” to seize the town of Sasa on the Quneitra-Damascus highway while rebels a little over 10 kilometers to the north along the same road have been locked in fighting to seize the base of the 137th Artillery Regiment.

 

The campaign comes after Southern Front rebels in early April launched an offensive further to the southeast outside the town of Sanamayn, which is one of the regime’s last major defensive lines on the highway leading from Daraa northward into Damascus.

 

The since-stalled offensive on the outskirts of the Sanamayn base that hosts the 9th Armored Division comes after rebel successes further to the south, where they captured the town of Bosra al-Sham on March 25 and then the Nasib border crossing the following week.

 

The regime had launched its own counteroffensive aimed at seizing Busr al-Harir last week, but tough rebel defense forced back the assault on the town which is located along a key road linking Suweida to the Daraa province.

 

Rebels have not only fought the regime in southern Syria; on Monday armed opposition groups attacked the ISIS-affiliated Army of Jihad in the Quneitra town of Qahtaniya near the Israeli border.

A Syrian jet goes down in flames over Quneitra. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

There have been serious signals that the Southern Front will receive Arab support within days.