DAMASCUS (Dispatches) -- Russian officials warned so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) negotiators in Dara’a that they plan to launch an attack on the northern Syrian province of Idlib in September, an FSA spokesman told the SMART news agency.
The apparent warning came as Syrian army troops laid siege to remaining FSA-held pockets in Dara’a City as they were poised to gain complete control after weeks of fighting.
The Syrian army was also consolidating its grip over the border area with Jordan to the east of the city, after taking control of the Nassib border crossing, a key trade route, last week.
Once backed by the West and Jordan, FSA militants agreed to a surrender deal on 6 July, handing over much of the area they had held for the past seven years along with their arms to the government.
According to Ibrahim Jibawi, a spokesman for the FSA's Southern Front Central Operations Room, the Russians advised militants during a meeting in the Dara’a province town of Busra al-Sham not to continue north after Dara’a.
"There was a warning by the Russians for the Free Army not to go to Idlib....'After Dara’a, we'll go to Idlib'," Jibawi told SMART.
An FSA military commander was also quoted as telling the news agency that the terrorists were now fortifying their bases in Idlib in anticipation of a new offensive.
The return of Dara’a to the government’s complete control would deal a psychological blow to terrorists since the city came to epitomize the early sedition in 2011 that spread across Syria and touched off a cycle of foreign-backed terrorism as terrorists from around the world trickled in.
Since the Dara’a offensive started on 19 June, almost 200,000 have returned to their towns, now areas held by the Syrian army, after Jordan shut its border crossing and declared that it would not host more Syrian refugees.
The Syrian army has seized sophisticated French-made anti-tank weapon systems in Dara’a, online military magazine Defence Blog reported on Tuesday.
The arms, seized in Jadal village, were referred to as 112-mm APILAS (Armor-Piercing Infantry Light Arm System).
"Local media have released imagery showing two captured APILAS anti-tank weapon systems developed in France by GIAT Industries,” it said.
Currently known as Nexter Systems, GIAT Industries is a French government-owned arms manufacturer. France is accused of backing anti-Damascus militancy since 2011.
The use of the APILAS anti-tank weapon system had also been spotted in Syria before, the magazine wrote, saying "as early as 2015, a couple of systems of this type were seized from Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants.”
The FSA has been enjoying ample Western support, most notably from the United States. Washington, however, recently told the militants that it would no longer stand behind them in southern Syria right before the government was about to start the counterterrorism push.
So far, over 120,000 of the APILAS launchers have been produced and handed over to such countries in the region as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, said the magazine.
After liberating Dara’a, Damascus hopes to free its neighboring provinces of Quneitra and Suwaida of terrorist presence. The three provinces form the Arab country’s southern tip near the border with Jordan.