AMMAN/BEIRUT - South Syrian rebels said they had agreed on Friday to lay down arms in a Russian-brokered deal that appeared to surrender Deraa province to the government in another major victory for President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian government recovered the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan, held by rebels for three years, state media reported, after a fierce assault in insurgent territory along the frontier backed by Russian air strikes.
Deraa province encompasses most of the area held by rebels in the southwest, one of their last remaining strongholds in Syria. Assad is also aiming to recover control of rebel-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with Israel.
Government advances in Deraa in a two-week offensive had brought large parts of the province back under state control and caused a massive rapid human exodus as some 330,000 people fled.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 159 civilians have been killed since the offensive began on June 19, including 33 children.
Ibrahim Jabawi, spokesman for the rebels' joint operations room, said they have reached an agreement with the Russians in which insurgents will begin to hand over some of their heavy weapons in return for a government pullout from several villages, allowing civilians to return to their villages and towns with Russia guaranteeing their protection.
Russian guarantees will also be extended to rebel fighters who wish to "settle their status" with the government - a process by which former insurgents accept to live under state rule again, the sources said.
Rebels who did not wish to come back under Assad's rule would leave for the insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria, they said.
There was no immediate comment from President Bashar Assad's government and its Russian backers.
Several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they spotted armored vehicles and a tank with a Russian flag heading to the Nassib crossing, an important trade artery.
A commander in a regional military alliance that backs Assad said an Israeli air strike had hit a Syrian village in Quneitra on Friday, causing no casualties. The IDF said it had hit a Syrian army post in that area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.