On the Syrian front line, where there will be no truce

Last Updated Feb 25, 2016 8:26 AM EST

DAMASCUS, Syria -- With just more than a day to go before a cease-fire is meant to take effect, how confident is the Syrian army?

Confident enough to have a group of journalists -- mostly Syrians, but also CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer -- tour the scene of their latest battlefield victory.

Just five miles from the center of Damascus, Palmer was shown around half of a square mile of total destruction.

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General Youssuf, the man in charge of the operation in the southern Damascus suburb of Daraya, led her through one of the destroyed buildings that used to be home to dozens of families.

Youssuf pointed to a hole in a wall and indicated to Palmer to have a look, telling her that the day before, a sniper with al Qaeda's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, was there, taking aim at his forces.

The Syrian army said that just 24 hours before CBS News was shown around, it pushed the opposition fighters half a mile back, to the next cluster of buildings.

Now they're pounding those rebels with machine guns, and from the air. As Palmer spoke to Youssuf, they could hear a helicopter buzzing overhead, choosing its target -- and then the boom of a strike.

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The government is using barrel bombs; cheap, deadly weapons that tear through large areas indiscriminately.

Asked by Palmer whether there are any civilians left in the area, Youssuf tells her, no, "almost everyone has fled."

It was the barrel bombs that smashed huge parts of Daraya to bits. The opposition fighters only survived there by going underground -- diving into a network of tunnels.

Climbing down into one of the tunnels with her government guide, Palmer was told it was built directly under the main road. Looking up inside the tunnel, she could see the black stripe; the layer of asphalt which the rebels hoped would lend a little extra protection.

The army insists the fighters it battled in Daraya were with the Nusra Front -- one of the designated terrorist groups not included in this weekend's cease-fire deal.

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But a commander with the Western-backed "Free Syrian Army" opposition said Thursday that the Nusra Front has "no presence" whatsoever in Daraya, and it is his men being bombed into the more distant suburbs.

"There will be no ceasefire without Daraya, " Issam Al Reis said Thursday in a tweet. Al Reis is the commander of the Southern Front, an alliance of rebel factions fighting under the FSA banner; rebels who are party to the cease-fire agreed by Russia and the U.S.

The Western-backed, "mainstream" Syrian opposition expressed "major concerns" on Wednesday that Syrian leader Bashar Assad would use the wording of the truce agreement, which permits ongoing operations against "terrorist groups," to continue hitting rebels as and where he likes.

Assad's government has since the beginning of the five-plus-year war referred to all opposition groups as "terrorist" entities.

With the Syrian army claiming the rebels in Daraya are Nusra Front, and the FSA saying it's their men being bombed, the prospects for any cease-fire in the area -- and possibly the country -- appeared dim.