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Syrian government forces raise flag in Dara’a, birthplace of the war

State media said the Syrian troops entered the town of Dara’a on Thursday.

“Those who refuse reconciliation will be evacuated,” the state-run SANA news agency reported Thursday.

Syria’s war origin story

For many Syrians, the war began in the town of Dara’a, an agricultural town on the border with Jordan. In March 2011, 15 teenage boys were arrested because of graffiti spray-painted on a high school wall.

The images of Arab strongmen like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali abdicating power prompted someone to scrawl on the wall: ‘It’s your turn now Doctor,’ referring to Assad, the ophthalmologist.

Town officials couldn’t find the perpetrator. The boys were held, beaten, had fingernails removed, and were tortured for weeks in a bid to prise a confession out of them.

While they were captive, their town revolted, protesting daily and calling on Assad to pressure the town’s police chief to release them.

Weeks later they were finally freed, and Dara’a had become a focal point in the government’s effort to suppress unrest. By the spring of 2011, army tanks rolled into the town, rebel forces took up positions to fight the army, and the town and the surrounding areas, descended into unrelenting violence.

Over seven years later, with millions of Syrians displaced and hundreds of thousands dead, the final push into Dara’a seemingly puts an end to the war as Syrian and Russian forces wrap up a major offensive launched last month.

Hundreds of thousands homeless

More than 300,000 Syrians were made homeless by the regime’s latest offensive in Dara’a, south of Damascus.

UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma told CNN last week that it was the largest displacement of civilians in southern Syria since the war began. In three weeks of fighting, some 180,000 children were forced from their homes.

What has happened in Dara’a mirrors other advances by the regime since the fall of Aleppo at the beginning of 2017. One by one, areas that were agreed to be “de-escalation zones” have come under attack by Assad’s army and pro-regime militias, backed by Russian airpower. Once rebel groups are weakened, the Russians step in to stabilize the area.

Syrian army engineering units would now sweep residential neighborhoods to prepare for “the entry of the workshops to rehabilitate infrastructure and restore basic services to Dara’a,” state media reported.

“With the Syrian army entering the area, another chapter of terrorists’ crimes comes to an end,” it added.

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