Syrian rebels launch offensive aimed at southern city

AP News
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Posted: Jun 25, 2015 1:35 PM

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels launched an offensive Thursday to capture government-held neighborhoods in the southern city of Daraa, setting off fighting that killed dozens of people, including a man struck by a shell that slammed into a market in a nearby Jordanian border town.

Daraa is the birthplace of the uprising against President Bashar Assad that erupted in 2011. The uprising began with mostly peaceful protests but escalated into a full-blown civil war after a brutal government crackdown.

The new offensive started around dawn Thursday, aiming to "liberate the city of Daraa," said Maj. Issam el Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front, a coalition of several dozen moderate rebel groups that is leading the push.

The spokesman said rebels and government troops were clashing in several locations.

Syrian State TV said rebel shelling attacks on Daraa killed six people and wounded 13. It said electricity was cut in the city after a main station was hit north of Daraa.

A Jordanian security official said one man was killed and four people were wounded when a shell from Syria struck a market in the Jordanian border town of Ramtha. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters.

The website of the Jordanian daily Al-Rai said a total of three shells hit Ramtha and that the sound of explosions on the Syrian side of the border could be heard throughout the day. It said the four wounded included two 12-year-old boys.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 troops and pro-government gunmen as well as 18 rebels were killed on the first day of fighting.

Daraa governor Mohammed Khaled al-Hannous told Syrian state TV that the attack on the city began at 5:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) with intense shelling.

"Our armed forces repelled them and inflicted large casualties among them" al-Hannous said. "The situation is under control and they did not advance even one meter."

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Associated Press writer Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.