Syrian army steps up bombardment of southern province

BEIRUT — The Syrian army on Friday intensified its aerial bombardment of southern Syria as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a wide offensive in a province bordering Jordan, activists said.

The Local Coordination Committees opposition network and an anti-government activist in the area said air raids and government shelling in the southern province of Daraa killed at least two people Friday.

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The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that airstrikes on several areas in Daraa killed a man and a child. It said warplanes and helicopter gunships attacked the towns of Enkhil and Ghabagheb, as well as the village of Naima and the capital of Daraa province, which carries the same name.

Daraa is where Syria’s uprising started nearly three years ago with anti-government protests that later spread throughout the country. The conflict turned into a civil war that has killed more than 140,000 people, according to opposition activists.

The army in recent days also has stepped up its use of barrel bombs in deadly airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Daraa. The crude bombs — barrels filled with explosives, fuel and scraps of metal — had been used mostly against rebel-held areas in the northern city of Aleppo and near Damascus, Syria’s capital.

An amateur video released by activists showed smoke billowing from Naima after it was struck by barrel bombs. Another video showed men running through dust created by a strike in the city of Daraa before reaching a two-story house that had been bombed into a pile of rubble. A man could be heard shouting in the background: “My father!”

The videos appeared genuine and corresponded with Associated Press reporting of the attacks.

Several activists said the attacks came as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a push from the area toward Damascus in coming days. The rebels have tried several times over the past two years to reach the capital but were stopped by Syrian troops.

The activists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were speaking about military plans, claimed that thousands of U.S.-trained rebels are getting ready to attack government positions throughout Daraa province.

 
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