Syrian troops celebrate recapture of Jordan border crossing
NASEEB, Syria — Syrian soldiers fanned out across towns and villages in southern Syria Saturday, celebrating the recapture of the main border crossing with Jordan by raising portraits of President Bashar Assad and tearing down rebel flags.
Troops captured the Naseeb border crossing a day earlier following a crushing two-week military offensive, after rebels announced they had reached an agreement with Russian mediators to end the violence in the southern province of Daraa and surrender the crossing.
Some flashed victory signs and pumped fists in the air as they chanted pro-Assad slogans. A soldier could be seen hoisting the Syrian flag atop a watchtower. Another tore down the rebel flag from a building.
One officer said that troops have taken up positions along the border with Jordan and are blocking illegal crossing points.
‘‘We have ended their existence,’’ he said of the rebels. ‘‘They have no future anymore, God willing.’’
The crossing was once a
bustling and vital artery through which Syria exported goods to Jordan and from there on to oil-rich Gulf countries. Rebels seized it in 2015, severing that lifeline and disrupting a key overland trade route also for Jordan
An Associated Press journalist escorted by the Syrian army on Saturday saw troops setting up checkpoints along the road leading up to the crossing, full of potholes from shelling; they removed sand barriers and burnt out cars by its side.
Heavy white smoke rose from a smoldering match factory in the free zone next to the crossing. Government buildings also bore the marks of fighting and shelling. Some were partially burned, windows were broken, and looting appeared to have been pervasive.
Russian military police were seen taking up positions on both sides of the border.
Syrian government forces now control all the towns and villages on the eastern side of Daraa province, including the villages of Nuaima and Saida, which are about 5 miles from the Naseeb crossing and links the eastern and western sides of Daraa.
In one village, Saida, there were few residents two days after Syrian soldiers captured it from the rebels. Broken glass littered streets lined with bombed out houses.
‘‘They destroyed the town. God will punish them,’’ said a 50-year-old villager who returned to check on her home.
The recapture of Naseeb in Daraa marks the return of Assad’s forces to the province where the uprising against him began seven years ago.