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Creeping offensives, truces spread tensions in south Syrian rebel ranks

Syria's Southern Front forces, which face threats from the Islamic State and the government from various directions, have so far managed to hold their ground in the Daraa area despite government offensives and truces that pressure local communities into agreements with the Assad government.
TOPSHOT - Opposition fighters drive a tank in a rebel-held area of the southern Syrian city of Daraa, during re-newed clashes with regime loyalists on May 10, 2016. / AFP / MOHAMAD ABAZEED        (Photo credit should read MOHAMAD ABAZEED/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIRUT — The role of Daraa in Syria’s uprising is now part of Arab Spring lore. In March 2011, a group of schoolboys were arrested, interrogated and tortured by security services after spraying anti-government graffiti on a wall. Soon enough, a national protest movement fanned out from the southern city and engulfed several major Syrian cities.

Nowadays, though, Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions from the Southern Front — once feted as the best hope for a moderate fighting force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — increasingly appear on their back foot in Daraa. They have faced competing threats, including the emergence of Islamic State-linked groups near Syria’s southwestern borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Priorities have also changed within the Military Operations Center (MOC), an Amman-based coordinating body said to include the CIA as well as Jordanian and Gulf intelligence that has backed the Southern Front for the past two years.

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