Syria and IS reach truce after south Damascus battles

Beirut (AFP) –


Pro-government forces and the Islamic State group observed a brief ceasefire in southern Damascus Saturday, a monitor said, after weeks of deadly fighting in the jihadists' last stronghold in the Syrian capital.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad last month launched a wide-scale offensive against IS in Damascus' Hajar al-Aswad district and the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp. Clashes have inflicted heavy losses on both sides.

"A ceasefire came into effect at midday today, ostensibly for five hours," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP late Saturday that the truce, which may be a prelude to the evacuation of IS fighters from the area, was still in effect.

He said the ceasefire had been negotiated by regime ally Russia and pro-government Palestinian factions.

Syria's state-run Sana news agency however quoted a military source as denying the agreement.

Loyalist forces launched a ferocious assault in southern Damascus after capturing the Eastern Ghouta rebel stronghold near the capital in April.

They have already retaken the Qadam neighbourhood, but the jihadists retain control of around 70 percent of Yarmuk.

According to Observatory, fighting in southern Damascus has killed 484 IS members and more than 250 pro-regime fighters as well as 56 civilians.

Once a thriving district home to some 160,000 Palestinians and Syrians, Yarmuk's population has fallen to just a few hundred people.

Syria's war has left more than 350,000 people dead since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, before spiralling into a complex conflict involving world powers and jihadists.