AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian military aircraft bombed areas close to its main crossing into Jordan on Thursday, witnesses and a group monitoring the conflict said, hours after insurgents had captured the border post.
Insurgents fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad said they had seized the Nasib crossing in southern Syria late on Wednesday, putting most of 370-km (230-mile) border area stretching up to Israel in the hands of the rebels.
“The aim is not the crossing as such but to weaken the regime’s hold in the south and to increase the areas under our control,” said Abu Hadi al-Aboud, head of Faloujat Houran brigade, which helped take over the crossing.
“We dealt a blow to the last symbol of sovereignty of the regime along the border,” he said.
The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front also said it had captured the crossing but rival rebels denied this and accused them of looting after the crossing fell into rebel hands.
Witnesses told Reuters that Nusra fighters had entered the customs area with hundreds of insurgents and civilians who looted dozens of Jordanian trucks and stole other vehicles.
The Southern Front, an alliance of rebel groups in southern Syria, said on Thursday that Nusra Front fighters had been told to leave the area and that the crossing was under their control.
Jordan closed its side of the crossing on Wednesday. A Jordanian source said on Thursday the kingdom had stepped up security and redeployed some troops to the border.
The Syrian army, which accuses the staunch U.S. ally of harboring rebels on its soil, said the kingdom had deployed its troops inside the crossing after the rebels took control. Amman denies providing training and arms for the insurgents.
Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the area overnight, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Witnesses counted at least six aerial strikes hitting the Nasib crossing. Plumes of grey smoke rose on the Syrian side and two rebels were killed, they said.
Rebels said the Syrian army had also escalated bombing raids on several insurgent-held towns a few miles (km) away in the southern province of Deraa, which offers a direct route to Damascus 90 km (55 miles) to the north.
Jordan has pressured rebels in the past not to overrun the Nasib crossing so the highway could stay open to trade and traffic with Damascus.
Before the Syrian uprising, billions of dollars in goods traded between the Gulf, Turkey and Europe passed through the crossing. Nasib, one of Syria’s last official border crossings, is now crucial for importing goods into a country hit hard by Western sanctions.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut; Editing by Tom Heneghan