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US Warns Syria Gov't on S. Syria       05/26 10:24

   BEIRUT (AP) -- The United States warned it would take "firm and appropriate 
measures" to protect a cease-fire in southern Syria if President Bashar Assad's 
forces move against rebels there.

   The area in southwestern Syria, between the border city of Daraa and the 
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has emerged as a flashpoint in a wider standoff 
between regional archrivals Israel and Iran.

   The U.S., Russia, and Jordan agreed last year to include Daraa in a 
"de-escalation zone" to freeze the lines of conflict. But government forces 
have recently dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas warning of an imminent 
offensive and urging fighters to lay down their arms, Syrian state media said 
Friday.

   In a statement released Friday, the U.S. State Department said it was 
concerned by reports that Assad's forces were preparing for an operation in 
southwestern Syria. It warned the government against "any actions that risk 
broadening the conflict."

   Assad has relied on Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah 
to battle an uprising against his family's decades-long rule and roll-back an 
Islamic State insurgency that grew out of the country's seven-year civil war. 
Iran has sent military commanders to oversee battles and organize militias from 
across the Middle East to fight alongside Assad's troops.

   The U.S. and Israel view Iran's extensive military presence in Syria as a 
threat to Israel and have threatened action. The Israeli military is believed 
to be behind dozens of airstrikes in recent years against Hezbollah, Iran, and 
Syrian military positions.

   Earlier this month, Israel bombed Iranian military positions in Syria in 
what it said was retaliation for an Iranian rocket attack on the occupied Golan 
Heights. Israel called it its most serious operation in Syria since the 1973 
Mideast war.

   The government began moving reinforcements to Daraa province this week after 
expelling the last rebels and IS militants from around Damascus, according to 
the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors 
the war.

   Leaflets dropped on northern Daraa, which is divided between rebel and 
government-controlled areas, warned: "The men of the Syrian army are coming."

   The Syrian uprising began in Daraa in 2011. The cease-fire has slowly 
disintegrated as government warplanes have carried out airstrikes against 
rebel-held areas.


(KA)

 
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