′Islamic State′ fighters and their relatives leave south Damascus: monitor | News | DW | 20.05.2018
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'Islamic State' fighters and their relatives leave south Damascus: monitor

A first batch of "Islamic State" fighters has evacuated their stronghold in Damascus a day after an apparent deal with the Syrian regime. In recent years, jihadis have steadily lost ground to government forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that a group of "Islamic State" (IS) jihadis evacuated an enclave in the south of the Syrian capital, Damascus, after weeks of fierce combat with the regime's forces.

"At dawn, six buses of IS fighters and their relatives left the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and adjacent district of al-Tadamon," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, which is monitoring the Syrian conflict via a network of activists in the country.

Rahman said the vehicles headed east of Syria's vast desert, where IS still holds some territory. The number of people that left the Damascus enclave is not clear.

President Bashar Assad's regime, aided by Russia and Iran, has been battling with IS fighters near Damascus for a month. The latest evacuations have come after an apparent deal that IS struck with the government.

Since April 19, pro-regime forces, including Palestinian militias, have been fighting to recapture Yarmouk, al-Tadamon and the nearby districts of Qadam and Hajar al-Aswad from the jihadi group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights noted that at least 250 pro-regime fighters and some 233 IS militants had been killed during the month-long assault.

The fighting subsided on Saturday amid reports that IS and the Assad regime had reached an evacuation agreement.

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'Forced displacement'

The Assad regime still has no control over swathes of territory near Syria's border with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. It has, however, forced IS to retreat from a number of previous jihadi-held areas with the help from Moscow.

According to the United Nations, some 110,000 people have been evacuated to northwestern Syria and rebel-controlled parts in Aleppo's north in the past two months.

Syrian opposition dubs the evacuations a policy of "forced displacement" and an attempt by Assad to change the country's demography by driving out his opponents.

The Syrian president has vowed to win back "every inch" of the country, but many areas in the east and northeast are controlled by Kurdish groups and have a US military presence.

In the country's southwest, rebels hold territory at the Israeli and Jordanian border.  Assad faces the risk of conflict with Israel, which does not want to see Iranian-backed militias so close to its border.

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shs/tj  (Reuters, AFP)

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