February 14, 2017 / 10:05 PM / 7 months ago

Russian jets pound Deraa city after rebel gains

AMMAN (Reuters) - Russian jets pounded rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Deraa on Tuesday for a second day as Syrian government troops fought with rebels near a strategic border crossing with Jordan, rebels and witnesses said.

Rebel groups on Sunday stormed the heavily-garrisoned Manshiya district. But on Tuesday 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.

The opposition fighters are drawn from both Free Syrian Army groups and members of a newly formed jihadist alliance - Tahrir al Sham - spearheaded by a faction that was once al Qaeda’s official affiliate.

A rebel source said there were at least 30 Russian sorties on Tuesday, thwarting new rebel gains on Tuesday.

“When the regime began to lose control of some areas ... the Russian jets began their operations,” said Ibrahim Abdullah, a senior rebel commander.

Mortars hit government-controlled parts of the city, residents said. The battles in Deraa are the most intense since an alliance of mainstream rebels launched an unsuccessful campaign to capture the whole city in 2015.

“There is not a single day that passes without the regime trying to make advances,” said Salamah Aba Zaid, a resident.

Aid workers said jets hit a Western-funded field hospital in Deraa and raids killed at least seven members of one family in the border area, where many residents fled in the early days of the Syrian conflict.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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