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article imageDeal agreed to evacuate Syria's Yarmuk refugee camp: state media

By AFP     Apr 29, 2018 in World

A deal has been reached for the evacuation of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk where Islamic State group fighters have been holed up in southern Damascus, state media reported Sunday.

The transfer of "terrorist groups" to rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria would begin on Monday, said the official SANA news agency, which did not name IS jihadists.

It came hours after the Syrian government and rebels agreed to evacuate opposition fighters from the areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem, also in southern Damascus, according to SANA.

The announcements followed a more than one week-old regime assault to oust IS fighters from the capital's southern suburbs.

Earlier on Sunday, SANA said opposition fighters and members of their families would be evacuated from the three rebel-held areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem, east of Yarmuk.

The deal gave fighters the choice between leaving the area with their families or handing over their weapons and staying, SANA said.

The reported deal is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the regime retake areas near the capital after rebel withdrawals.

Over the past two days, regime forces have retaken large parts of the district of Qadam on Yarmuk's western flank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Earlier, behind the frontlines, an AFP correspondent on an army tour of the area west of Yarmuk heard sniper fire, as well as heavy regime air strikes and shelling.

At the devastated Qadam train station, soldiers took a break inside one of the train's carriages, one peering out from a broken window.

- 'Narrow alleys'-

A picture taken during a government guided tour in Damascus' southern Qadam neighbourhood shows...
A picture taken during a government guided tour in Damascus' southern Qadam neighbourhood shows smoke rising from buildings in Yarmuk, a Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of the capital, and the surrounding areas, during regime shelling
LOUAI BESHARA, AFP

Another lit some firewood to boil some water for tea, as a thick column of black smoke billowed up into the sky not far off.

On Sunday, regime warplanes pounded Yarmuk and the neighbouring district of Hajar al-Aswad, the Observatory said.

SANA said regime forces continued advancing in Hajar al-Aswad.

Yarmuk and its surroundings have been the jihadist group's largest urban redoubt in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, after IS lost most of the swathes of territory it once held in both countries.

The jihadists have held parts of Yarmuk and Hajar al-Aswad since 2015, and overran Qadam in a surprise assault last month.

On Saturday, IS seized a hospital and surrounding buildings on the eastern edges of Yarmuk as it tried to push towards Yalda, the Observatory said.

The announcement of a deal for Yalda and nearby areas comes after the regime reconquered what was once a key rebel bastion east of Damascus this month.

Eastern Ghouta fell after a brutal military operation and a series of similar evacuation deals brokered by regime ally Russia that saw tens of thousands of residents bussed to northern Syria.

A military source told AFP the battle against IS in southern Damascus was very different to the operation to retake the former rebel enclave.

In southern Damascus, "the buildings are close together and alleys narrow" so tanks and heavy weaponry can not operate, he said.

At least 85 regime fighters and 74 IS jihadists have been killed in 10 days of fighting in southern Damascus, the Observatory says.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011 with a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

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