Russian jets pounded rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Deraa on Tuesday for a second day in the first such intensive bombing campaign since Moscow’s intervention in Syria more than a year ago, as the Syrian opposition called for face-to-face negotiations with the Syrian government at Geneva next week.
Rebel groups on Sunday stormed the heavily garrisoned Manshiya district in a battle dubbed “Death rather than Humiliation” saying the campaign sought to obstruct any army attempts to capture a strategic border crossing with Jordan.
The army’s control of the rebel held crossing and swatches of territory in the southern strip of the city would sever the rebel link between the eastern and west parts of the city.
The Syrian army said the “terrorists” had failed to make gains and its troops had inflicted many casualties.
State media said the armed insurgents showered civilian districts of the southern city with mortars, wrecking many homes.
A rebel source said there were at least 30 Russian sorties on Tuesday, thwarting further rebel gains in the enclave that had allowed them so far to secure significant parts of the Manshiya.
“When the government began to lose control of some areas … the Russian jets began their operations,” said Ibrahim Abdullah, a senior rebel commander.
The fighting also spread across other parts of the city as rebels fired mortars on government controlled parts of the city. Ground-to-ground missiles were also deployed from army barracks to pound rebel held quarters of the city, residents said.
The Syrian opposition wants face-to-face negotiations with the government about a political transition at peace talks that are due to begin in Geneva next week, a leading Syrian opposition politician said on Wednesday.
Salim Al Muslit, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, said there could be no role for Assad in the transition, saying “the heavy price paid by the Syrian people” would have been wasted if he remained.
“We want direct negotiations, we want to save time, we want a quick end to the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said.