July 30, 2018 / 3:28 PM / 17 days ago

Syrian government forces and allies close to capturing entire southwest

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Government forces are on the brink of seizing the last part of southwestern Syria still in rebel hands, having taken control of the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor and a media outlet close to Damascus said on Monday.

A military media unit run by Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Damascus, said the Syrian army had secured the entire border with the Golan Heights

Advancing government forces have seized all but a few villages held by an Islamic State-affiliated faction, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid army, that controlled the Yarmouk Basin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Earlier in July, the Syrian government and its allies, backed by Russian air strikes, widened their offensive on the southwest to include the region which borders the Golan Heights and Jordan.

“Khalid Ibn al-Walid army now controls three small villages, which constitute less than one percent of the area it once controlled in Yarmouk Basin,” Rami Abdelrahman, director of the British-based Observatory, told Reuters by phone.

President Bashar al-Assad’s offensive has already recovered large amounts of territory from rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.

Assad is already in his strongest position since the early days of a seven-year civil war that has killed half a million people. A successful assault on the southwest would leave the rebels largely confined to a pocket of territory in the northwest.

Assad has so far recovered large parts of Deraa province in the southwest from FSA rebels, many of whom have been forced into surrender agreements mediated by Russian officers. The United States, which once armed the southern FSA rebels, told them at the start of the attack not to expect its intervention.

Reporting by Dahlia Nehme and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Perry, Peter Graff and David Stamp

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