Syrian air force steps up attacks in south
By BASSEM MROUE | The Associated Press | Published: February 21, 2014
BEIRUT — The Syrian army intensified its aerial bombardment Friday of southern Syria as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a wide offensive in a province bordering Jordan, activists said.
The Local Coordination Committees opposition network and an anti-government activist in the area said air raids and government shelling in the southern province of Daraa killed at least two people Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another activist group, reported that air raids on several areas in Daraa killed a man and a child. It said warplanes and helicopter gunships attacked the towns of Enkhil and Ghabagheb, as well as the village of Naima and the capital of Daraa province that carries the same name.
Daraa is where Syria's uprising started nearly three years ago with anti-government protests that later spread throughout the country. It turned into a civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people, according to opposition activists.
The army in recent days also has stepped up its use of barrel bombs in deadly airstrikes on rebel held areas of Daraa. The crude bombs — barrels filled with explosives and fuel — had so far been used mostly against rebel held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and near Damascus, Syria's capital.
An amateur video released by activists showed smoke billowing from Naimi after being struck by barrel bombs. Another video showed men running through dust created by a strike in the city of Daraa before reaching a two-story house bombed into a pile of rubble. A man could be heard shouting in the background: "My father!"
The video appeared genuine and corresponded with Associated Press reporting of the attacks.
Several activists said the attacks come as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a push toward Damascus from there in coming days. The rebels tried several times over the past two years to reach the capital but were crushed by Syrian troops.
The activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were speaking of military plans, claimed thousands of U.S.-trained rebels are getting ready to attack government positions throughout Daraa province.
Syria's daily Al-Thawra newspaper, a mouthpiece of President Bashar Assad's government, harshly criticized Jordan on Thursday, accusing it of taking part in a U.S.-backed conspiracy against Damascus.
There is an "official Jordanian role in coordination with intelligence services from the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, with some Gulf Arab mix," the paper said. It added that Jordan is taking part in an "American escalation" after the second round of peace talks between rival Syrian groups in Geneva ended without any progress.
The CIA has led U.S. outreach to the rebels outside Syria, meeting them at refugee camps and towns along the Turkish and Jordanian borders. CIA paramilitary officers, as well as special operations trainers, have trained select groups of rebels in Jordan on the use of encrypted communications equipment — the nonlethal aid provided by President Barack Obama's administration — and they have helped the rebels learn how to fire anti-aircraft weapons and small arms provided by Gulf states.
Meanwhile Friday, the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees reported heavy clashes in the southern region of Quneitra. The Syrian army has been reinforcing its positions in Quneitra as part of an effort to dislodge rebels from the area that is near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.