Syria government advances as rebels evacuate Qalamoun area
After days of government raids, rebels agree to leave Qalamoun while other groups hold on to areas in capital’s south.
Syrian government forces continue to launch air raids and artillery fire on parts of the capital’s outskirts in an attempt to drive out remaining armed opposition groups, according to state media and war monitors.
Rebel-held pockets near Damascus have been witnessing intense shelling from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces since Thursday.
Some of the areas, including Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun in the southern district of Damascus, have been under Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group’s control since April 2015.
The areas comprise the majority of the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp, which lies about 8km from central Damascus.
ISIL fighters were given 48 hours to surrender and withdraw from the Yarmouk area on Thursday, pro-government Al-Watan daily reported.
Meanwhile, remaining rebel factions in nearby eastern Qalamoun have begun evacuating to rebel-held parts of the country, after agreeing on Friday to surrender under threat of military action by government forces.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that buses began evacuating “terrorists and their families” out of Qamaloun to Idlib province and Jarablus city at noon on Thursday.
Activist Hazem al-Shamy told Al Jazeera that fighters from rebel groups Jaish al-Islam and Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham remain in control of other pockets such as the towns of Yalda, Beilla, and al-Qadam – all of which lie south of the capital.
Al-Shamy and other activists say some 200 air attacks were launched since Thursday.
“All of those areas including Yarmouk are being shelled by Russian fighter jets,” al-Shamy said.
According to Action Group for Palestinians in Syria, a London-based watchdog that documents human rights violations, at least four Palestinian refugees, including a member of Syria’s Civil Defense, were killed in Saturday’s attacks.
In total, at least six Palestinians lost their lives in the government-led raids that began two days ago, the group said.
Although most of the camp’s residents fled to other parts of Syria or to neighbouring countries, the United Nations estimates thousands remain trapped inside as a result of an imposed siege that began in 2012, shortly after the Syrian war started.
ISIL currently controls about five percent of Syria, including pockets in Deir Az Zor, and have a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert.
Since 2015, the Syrian government has regained control of the majority of Syria, with opposition groups now restricted to the northern part of the country.
They have thus far managed to regain large swaths of land through a series of evacuation deals that come amid a military offensive, most recently in Eastern Ghouta, a major Damascus suburb that was once home to 400,000 people.