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Syrian troops prepare for anti-Daesh offensive

By AFP - Apr 05,2018 - Last updated at Apr 05,2018

Pro-government soldiers stand guard at Al Wafideen checkpoint by the Russian and Syrian presidents’ portraits on the outskirts of Damascus on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian regime forces are gathering around a southern part of Damascus ahead of a planned operation against the Daesh group there, a war monitor said on Thursday.

Daesh extremists have controlled large parts of the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk and sections of the neighbouring districts of Hajar Al Aswad and Tadamun in the capital's south since 2015.

Last month, they overran the adjacent Qadam neighbourhood, taking advantage of Syrian troops being busy with an operation against rebels in Eastern Ghouta on the capital's northeastern flank.

"Since Sunday, reinforcements of regime forces and loyalist fighters — especially Palestinians — have been sent to the south of Damascus, in preparation for a military offensive to end the Daesh presence in the capital," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said.

"Palestinian fighters will be at the forefront of any military advance on the Yarmouk camp," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Pro-regime newspaper Al Watan also reported a potential military offensive on Daesh in the area, but gave no timeline or further details. 

Expelling the extremists would give the regime full control of the capital for the first time since 2012.

Once a thriving district home to some 160,000 Syrians and Palestinians, Yarmouk has been devastated since late 2012.

Clashes broke out that year between regime forces and rebels in the camp, causing thousands of people to flee.

Since 2015, Daesh has controlled the large majority of Yarmouk, while Syria's then Al Qaeda affiliate controlled other parts.

In the past two weeks, former Al Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al Sham fighters have left Yarmouk under a negotiated withdrawal, but hundreds of Daesh extremists remain, the observatory says.

Three of these negotiated pull-outs have recently seen tens of thousands of rebels and civilians leave Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that was once a key opposition stronghold. 

Brokered by regime backer Russia, the agreements have come after a blistering air and land assault launched by government troops on February 18. 

Evacuations were continuing from the third and final rebel-held pocket of Ghouta on Thursday, according to state news agency SANA. 

Late Wednesday, 635 people — Jaish Al Islam rebel fighters and members of their families — left Ghouta’s main town of Douma for the northern rebel-held town of Jarabulus, SANA said.

With Russia’s backing, President Bashar Assad’s regime has regained large parts of Syria that it had lost to rebels and extremists in the seven-year war.



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