More IS fighters leave Damascus district: monitor
Beirut (AFP) –
A second batch of fighters from the Islamic State jihadist group left their final Damascus stronghold overnight, a monitor said Monday, bringing the Syrian regime closer to a major milestone.
The government has so far not confirmed any deal with IS but a military source quoted by the official SANA news agency said a brief ceasefire was being observed to allow for the evacuation of civilians.
Yarmuk is the last Damascus district to escape government control and its full evacuation would bring the entire capital and its surroundings under regime control for the first time since 2012.
Government and allied forces started an operation last month to flush out jihadists and other groups from a cluster of neighbourhoods in southern Damascus.
They include Yarmuk, which was once home to the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and has been a besieged IS stronghold since 2015, as well as the adjacent neighbourhood of Hajar al-Aswad.
"A second batch of elements from the Islamic State organisation left after midnight," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"They are heading to a pocket in the desert still under the control of the extremist organisation," the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The first group of IS fighters was transferred by bus out of southern Damascus on Sunday, the monitor said.
The military source quoted by SANA said a ceasefire that began on Sunday and would remain in place until noon (0900 GMT) on Monday had allowed for the evacuation of women and children from the area.
It said the government would subsequently resume its operations.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used a combination of military pressure and evacuation deals in recent months to recapture territory around the capital from his armed opponents.
The assault against the jihadist force in southern Damascus has left more than 250 pro-regime forces, 233 jihadists and more than 60 civilians dead, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
© 2018 AFP