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Syrian army pounds southern city of Nawa, reports of casualties - residents

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Syrian army pounds southern city of Nawa, reports of casualties - residents

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AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian army late on Tuesday launched intensive aerial strikes on the city of Nawa in southern Deraa province with reports of dozens of civilian casualties as the army pressed a Russian-backed offensive in the area.

A resident said dozens of missiles were also fired on the heavily populated city that lies near Quneitra province adjoining the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights where the army moved earlier this week to control the remaining parts of the country's southwest in rebel hands.

"It's like doomsday," said Malek al Ghawi in a text message sent to Reuters, adding there were "many corpses in the streets and everyone is unable to pull them."

"We don't know where to take the injured, the town has been burnt," Abu Hashem, another resident said.

The city of Nawa, in which at least 100,000 people still live, is the largest urban centre left in rebel hands in Deraa province, where a Russian-backed offensive begun last month defeated rebels across a swathe of territory near Jordan and Israel.

The artillery and aerial bombardment came only hours after thousands of displaced people who had taken shelter along the Israeli border returned to the city that the army has nearly completely besieged.

They came back after reports that rebels had reached a surrender deal with the Russian military that would spare the city bombardment, another resident said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a hospital in the city was put out of action as a result of the bombardment, citing what it said were high casualties with "tens of people killed and injured."

The Syrian opposition accuses Russia and its allies of exacting a harsh punishment on civilians by heavily bombing rebel-held towns, forcing mass displacement of populated areas and causing wide scale destruction.

They say the intensity of the bombardment has forced rebels in many towns to sign surrender deals that offer safe passage to those who want to move to other opposition areas after handing over their weapons, while enlisting those who stay into the military.

Some of the heavy army bombardment came from al-Haara, a strategically located hill captured from rebels on Monday and overlooking the Golan that is close to Nawa city.

The shelling also targeted various rebel-held villages in Quneitra province located only a few kilometres away from the Israel border where tens of thousands of people had taken shelter from the offensive.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Sandra Maler and Chris Reese)

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