United States to take 'firm, appropriate measures' against Syria violations

June 14 (Reuters) - The United States will "take firm and appropriate measures" in response to Syrian government violations in a designated de-escalation zone in the country's southwest, the State Department said on Thursday.

After seven years of conflict, the southwest of Syria, bordering Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is one of the parts of the country still outside the state's control.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have recovered swathes of territory from rebels with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed militias, and he has repeatedly pledged to take back "every inch."

Experts have investigated reported use of chemical weapons by Assad's government. More than 500,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which has drawn in global powers and neighboring states.

Assad said on Wednesday his government was still pursuing a political solution for Syria's rebel-held southwest, but would use military force if the effort failed.

"We are giving the political process a chance," he told Iranian channel al-Alam News in an interview published in an English translation by Syrian state news agency SANA.

"If that doesn't succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force."

Since last year, a "de-escalation" deal brokered by Jordan, Russia and the United States has contained fighting in the southwest.

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Destruction in Syria after US-led airstrikes
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Destruction in Syria after US-led airstrikes
A Syrian soldier sprays water on the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier sprays water on the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS - APRIL 14: In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile at Syria as part of an allied strike April 14, 2018. Monterey is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. President Donald Trump has ordered a joint force strike on Syria with Britain and France over the recent suspected chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(Photo by Matthew Daniels/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
A journalist films the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS - APRIL 14: In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile at Syria as part of an allied strike April 14, 2018. Monterey is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. President Donald Trump has ordered a joint force strike on Syria with Britain and France over the recent suspected chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(Photo by Matthew Daniels/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian soldiers inspect the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Syrian soldiers inspect the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian soldiers extinguish a fire in the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A journalist inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier takes a picture of the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists take pictures of the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian soldier inspects the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces wait for vehicles carrying Jaish al-Islam fighters and their family members evacuated from the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, to arrive at the Wafideen crossing on April 14, 2018. Rebels in Syria's Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave, a monitor said, signalling the end of one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria's seven-year war. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on April 14, 2018 shows the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry. The United States, Britain and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, 'destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre'. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian military officer records a video inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Syrian firefighters are seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14,2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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The state department said any Syrian government military actions against that zone risked broadening the conflict.

"We affirm again that the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Syrian government violations in this area," it said in a statement on Thursday.

An underpinning ceasefire arrangement and the de-escalation deal are intended to save lives and create conditions for the displaced to return home safely, it added.

"The ceasefire must continue to be enforced and respected," it said.

The statement comes after Syrian jets struck rebel-held towns in the country’s south in March, rebels and residents said, the first aerial attacks on the area since the pact declaring it a "de-escalation zone."

As a member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia "is duly responsible" to "use its diplomatic and military influence over the Syrian government to stop attacks and compel the government to cease further military offensives," the state department said.

Early on Thursday, the State Department said the United States would release $6.6 million to the Syrian Civil Defense fund, commonly known as the White Helmets, and the U.N. International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which collects and analyzes evidence of violations of international human rights laws. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

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