A little over a year after originally losing to the town to various Islamist rebels, the Syrian military has troops in the center of the Sheikh Maskin, The battle is heating up, with Russian airstrikes and heavy fighting reported in the town’s east.
Sheikh Maskin is a relatively small city, but of strategic value because of its location on the highway between Damascus and the city of Daraa. Recapturing it would be a serious blow to rebel dominance of Daraa and the rest of the Syria-Jordan border.
The Syrian military has been pushing back into the Daraa Province in recent days, including with a booby-trap attack on rebels in Kfar Shams earlier this week. This along with a recent UN deal to regain certain areas south of Damascus may eventually eliminate the south as a front in the civil war.
It is surprising, however, that this offensive was launched so suddenly and without much hype, as previous Russia-backed offensives involved considerable PR pushes on the importance of recovering their various areas.
Daraa Province was, ironically, the site of the initial protest against the Assad government, which snowballed into a civil war. The province mostly fell during the US-backed Jordan training program for rebels, though al-Qaeda and other Islamists took most of the major possessions therein.