Opposition sources said Russian jets struck a rebel-held town in southwest Syria early on June 24, providing air cover to an expanding campaign by Syrian Army units to recapture the strategic area on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres on Friday called for "an immediate end to the current military escalation" while Nikky Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the world body, urged Moscow to pressure its Syrian ally to respect the ceasefire. Jabhat al-Nusra (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia) militants are plotting a provocation in Syria, having filmed choreographed evacuation of civilians and restoration of damaged buildings after an alleged Russian airstrike in Idlib, a spokesman for the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria said on Sunday.
The strongly worded statements had raised the hopes of the western-backed opposition of a possible American military intervention in the event the Syrian army's days-long bombing campaign broadens to an all-out offensive across the south-west.
Be we need to clarify our position: We understand you need to make your decisions based on your interests and the interests of your families and faction, as you see them.
"We in the United States government understand the hard conditions you are facing and still advise the Russians and the Syrian regime not to undertake a military measure that violates the zone", the message added.
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The advice seems to be going unheeded by the Russians.
According to a report in the UK Guardian, Assad's forces dropped barrel bombs from helicopters as part of their offensive against southern Syria.
Rebels in southern Syria have received support, including arms, from Assad's foreign foes during the seven-year-long war, but analysts believe the aid has dropped off after the United States president, Donald Trump, shut down a program run by the Central Intelligence Agency last year.
The United States backs antigovernment rebels fighting Assad's government in the war, which began in 2011 with a government crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.
United States ally Jordan, which has been anxious by the escalation, said it was engaged in intensive diplomacy with Washington and Moscow to preserve the zone and prevent a wider confrontation.