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Heavy clashes erupt in south Syria near Jordan border

AMMAN (Reuters) - Heavy fighting broke out overnight between armored forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels who launched coordinated attacks on army roadblocks across the southern city of Deraa on the border with Jordan, opposition activists said Monday.

The reports of the fighting in Deraa, where the uprising against Assad's rule began last March, could not be independently verified.

But opposition sources say rebels loosely organised under the Free Syrian Army banner have intensified assaults on loyalist targets in southern, north and eastern Syria in the last few days to relieve pressure in the city of Homs, where troops overran the rebel district of Baba Amro last week.

"The Free Syrian Army attacked several roadblocks and street fortifications simultaneously. Tanks are responding by firing 14 mm anti-aircraft guns into residential neighborhoods and army snipers are shooting at everything that moves, even nylon bags," Maher Abdelhaq, one of the activists, told Reuters from Deraa.

"About 20 buses carrying troops were seen heading from the football stadium in the north to the southern sector the city on the border (with Jordan)," he added.

An army offensive last April put down large demonstrations in Deraa, which had been provoked by the arrest of several women activists and the detention of schoolboys who had written freedom slogans on walls, inspired by Arab Spring revolts in other countries.

Tanks stormed Deraa again in mid-February to stamp out Free Syrian Army rebels in the city and remained deployed there, residents and opposition activists said.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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