Published: Tue, May 22, 2018
Arts&Culture | By Antoinette Montgomery

Syrian Troops Liberate Southern Damascus Areas

Syrian Troops Liberate Southern Damascus Areas

Pro-Syrian Government forces have been battling for weeks to recover al-Hajar al-Aswad district and the adjacent Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp from Islamic State since driving rebels from eastern Ghouta in April.

A ceasefire at the weekend ushered in a brief wave of evacuations that wrapped up at around midday on Monday.

The Observatory said evacuation of the IS group is over, after 32 buses took 1,600 people including fighters and their relatives, out of southern Damascus.

"The Syrian Army has liberated the Yarmouk camp south of Damascus and hoisted the Syrian flag there", the source said.

Abdel Rahman said IS sleeper cells may remain in Yarmouk, however, and further military operations could lie ahead before the area is declared secure.

They had left toward the Syrian Badia, a sparsely populated expanse of territory east of the capital that extends to the border with Jordan and Iraq, it said.

The gain puts the government of Bashar al Assad in its strongest position since the Syrian war began in 2011.

The government has not confirmed any deal with IS.

The TV earlier quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying the two-day truce had been in place to evacuate women, children and the elderly on Sunday night from Hajar al-Aswad.

AFP's correspondent in Damascus saw black smoke emerging from the capital's southern skyline around that time.

Standing on Route 30, a main street in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, a young Syrian soldier sighed: "This was the last battle in Damascus". The Syrian government has said nobody is forced to leave and those who stay must accept state rule.

Iranian officials have pledged to remain in Syria despite calls by the United States, Israel, and others for it to remove its fighters.

The coalition sent airplanes to shadow last year's convoy, conducting bombing raids to block it from reaching IS-held territory.

Yarmuk was once a thriving district in Syria's capital, home to some 160,000 Palestinian refugees as well as Syrians.

Negotiated withdrawals have been a common feature of the Syrian war in recent years as the government, aided by the Russian military and Iran-backed forces, has steadily clawed back territory. "We will keep marching until we liberate all parts of Syria".

With Iran's help, Assad's forces have been making steady gains since 2015, when Russian Federation launched an air campaign on behalf of his forces.

IS jihadists posted several grisly pictures on their social media accounts purportedly showing regime or allied fighters they beheaded during the operation, which the Observatory said also left more than 250 pro-regime fighters dead.

"Damascus and its surroundings... are completely secure", spokesman Gen Ali Mayhoub said on state television. In his first major foreign policy speech since taking the post as the top USA diplomat, he issued a list of demands that he said should be included in any new nuclear treaty with Iran, including that it "withdraw all forces" from Syria, halt support for Hezbollah and stop threatening Israel.

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