Syrian army controls capital after ousting ISIS

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 22, 2018

The Syrian army pushed Islamic State militants out of a south Damascus pocket on Monday and declared the Syrian capital and its surroundings "completely safe" from militants for the first time in almost seven years.

"The Syrian army announces today that Damascus, its outskirts and surrounding towns are completely secure", it said in a statement carried on regime-affiliated media.

Syrian government forces have regained full control of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee in southern Damascus, the Al-Masdar news outlet reported on Monday.

The official state news agency and government officials deny reaching a deal to allow the militants to evacuate Yarmouk and adjacent areas.

Weeks of fierce combat subsided at the weekend when a ceasefire allowed for group withdrawals, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

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.

State TV said the offensive began at noon after a group of civilians was evacuated from the area overnight.

The fighting in southern Damascus has left scores of dead on both sides and caused massive destruction in the Yarmouk camp, which was a built-up residential area, and its surroundings.

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

State television broadcast footage of the shattered area and said air strikes "were targeting the last terrorist remnants" in the area after reporting earlier that a temporary humanitarian ceasefire had been in place since Sunday night, Reuters reported.

A military source close to the regime said the deal had been reached through negotiations with the government and its ally Russian Federation.

With its complete capture of the environs of the capital, the government of President Bashar Al Assad is now in by far its strongest position since the early days of the war, which has killed more than half a million people and driven more than half the population from its homes since 2011.

Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been instrumental in helping Assad's over-stretched forces recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country's centre and north, building a military presence that has alarmed Israel and its US ally, which is now looking to constrain Iran's activities.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters that no one can force Tehran to do anything it doesn't want to do.

Russian Federation and Iran have been Mr. Assad's strongest backers and joined the war on his side. Mr Putin said he expected foreign forces to withdraw from Syria soon as the political process moves forward.

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