Thousands of Syrians return to Daraa after ceasefire deal
Thousands of displaced Syrians headed back home to Daraa on Saturday after rebels agreed to a tough Russian ceasefire plan after two weeks of deadly bombardment.
Regime ally Moscow has used a carrot-and-stick approach to strike a string of ceasefire agreements across Syria. Under the deal announced Friday, rebels can leave to another opposition area in northwest Syria or stay in Daraa under Russia's protection.
Rebels also agreed to hand over their heavy weapons, a condition they initially rejected.
Dara is seen as the birthplace of the uprising that sparked Syria's seven-year war, and the regime retaking full control of it is a major symbolic victory for President Bashar al-Assad.
The Russia-backed regime offensive in Daraa has displaced more than 320,000 people since it began on 19 June, with tens of thousands fleeing to the sealed border with Jordan.
Calm reigned over the region on Saturday as the two sides finalised the ceasefire deal, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
"People have started to return to their homes since yesterday" from the Jordanian border, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
He said "over 28,000 displaced people" had returned to 13 villages and other locations.
But many Syrians are reluctant to return to Daraa, as the agreements come with no UN guarantees.
The regime has used a string of deals like Friday's with rebels brokered by Russia to retake more than 60 percent of the country.
The deals follow a series of regime victories nationwide since Russia intervened militarily in 2015 on Assad's side, including the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Syrian regime soldiers burned a rebel flag after they and Russian military police took over the crucial Nassib post on the border with Jordan.
The cash-strapped Syrian regime has long eyed reopening trade with Jordan to ease its economic woes.
Since Syria's war began in 2011, more than 350,000 people have been killed, mostly at the regime's hands. Millions more have been internally displaced or made refugees.