The fighting started when government forces fired artillery shells towards Deraa al-Balad in tandem with a ground push.
Fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels has intensified near Deraa city, in what has been described as the heaviest clashes since the southern eponymous province came under government control.
Russian-backed government troops and allied forces recaptured Deraa from rebels in 2018, a symbolic blow to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that was born there in 2011.
State institutions have since returned, but the army has still not deployed across the whole province. Tit-for-tat bombings and assassinations between former opposition figures and government forces have since become routine.
Tensions flared on Thursday, leading to what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the “most violent and broadest clashes in Daraa [Deraa] since it came under regime control”.
The fighting started when government forces fired artillery shells towards the former opposition hub of Deraa al-Balad in tandem with a ground push, the Britain-based war monitor said.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper called it the “start of a military operation against hideouts of terrorists who thwarted a reconciliation deal”.
Many former rebels stayed in Deraa instead of evacuating under a Moscow-brokered deal, either joining the army or remaining in control of parts of the province.
Deraa al-Balad, a southern district of Deraa city, is among the areas controlled by former opposition forces.
In response to Thursday’s shelling, gunmen launched a counterattack across many parts of Deraa’s countryside, where they captured several government positions.
“Eight Syrian regime and allied militia fighters died during clashes across Daraa province in recent hours,” the Observatory said.
“Gunmen also captured more than 15 members of the regime forces in Daraa’s western and eastern countrysides,” it added.