Syrian forces launch attack in south despite ceasefire: Monitor

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Iran is calling for the partial ceasefire in southwestern Syria to be expanded throughout the whole country

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries weapons as he walks past damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Daraa (Reuters)
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Tuesday 11 July 2017 10:31 UTC
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Syrian government forces launched an attack on rebels in a southern province on Monday despite a ceasefire, a monitor said, but state media said the assault was against the Islamic State (IS) group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the assault in Sweida province began on Monday morning, almost 24 hours into an internationally brokered ceasefire.

"The regime started an attack on the area northeast of Sweida city, backed by air strikes," the monitor said, reporting clashes between government troops and rebels on the ground.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the groups under attack have received support from the US-led coalition fighting IS.

He said the government had captured a string of hilltops and villages in the area.

But Syrian state media named those same positions as territory that government forces had captured from IS.

"Our forces and allies captured several areas, villages, hilltops and commanding positions in the eastern countryside of Sweida after eliminating large numbers of IS terrorists," state news agency SANA said.

Calls for expanded ceasefire

The clashes come amid calls by Iran to expand a partial ceasefire in southern Syria negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan as it entered its second day.

"The [ceasefire] agreement can be fruitful if it is expanded to all of Syria and includes all the area that we discussed in Astana talks for de-escalating the tension," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

"Iran is seeking Syria's sovereignty and security so a ceasefire cannot be limited to a certain location ... No agreement would be successful without taking the realities on the ground into account," he added.

The United States, Russia and Jordan announced a ceasefire and "de-escalation agreement" for southwestern Syria on Friday after a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg.

So far, the deal announced Friday has brought quiet to most of the three provinces covered: Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida.

But in addition to the Sweida clashes, there have been other limited violations according to the Observatory, including government shelling and exchanges of fire with rebels in Daraa.

In Quneitra province, there were also reports of sporadic machine gun fire from both sides, though there were no casualties in any of the incidents, the monitor said.

Sunday's ceasefire went into effect just ahead of new peace talks in Geneva.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.