Syria rebels exit towns near Damascus

Beirut (AFP) –


Hundreds of Syrian rebels left an area south of Damascus on Thursday, a monitor and state media said, leaving the capital threatened only by the Islamic State group.

The departure of the last group of rebel fighters and their families from Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham marked the conclusion of a week of evacuations from the three towns.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor told AFP that 15 buses carrying hundreds of fighters and their relatives left the towns and were heading towards opposition territory in northern Syria.

"For the first time since 2011, there are no opposition fighters in or around Damascus except the Islamic State group," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Observatory.

IS still controls a pocket of territory inside the Yarmuk Palestinian camp and the adjacent Hajar al-Aswad district, both inside Damascus.

Government forces have been pressing a ferocious weeks-long assault against them there.

The agreement for Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham was reached last week and follows a pattern of similar deals through which Syria's government has recaptured swathes of territory around Damascus.

"Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham south of Damascus have been cleared of terrorism, after the final wave of terrorists who did not want to reconcile (with the government) left to northern Syria with their families," said state news agency SANA.

It said government security forces were preparing to enter the three towns.