Syriaís military on Monday captured an enclave in southern Damascus from Islamic State militants following a ruinous monthlong battle, bringing the entire capital and its far-flung suburbs under full government control for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.
gains freed President Bashar Assad’s forces to move with allied militiamen on
remaining rebel-held territory in the south near the border with Israel, as
Syria’s chief ally Iran comes under growing pressure from the Trump
administration to withdraw its troops from the country.
militias, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been instrumental in
helping Assad’s over-stretched forces recapture huge areas around Damascus and
in the country’s center and north, building a military presence that has
alarmed Israel and its U.S. ally, which is now looking to constrain Iran’s
officials have vowed to stay on in Syria for as long as needed, setting the
stage for a potential confrontation as Washington seeks to tighten the screws
on Tehran following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
brokered with Iran under President Barack Obama and world powers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran with the “strongest sanctions in
history” if Tehran doesn’t change course. In his first major foreign policy
speech since taking the post as the top U.S. diplomat, he issued a list of
demands that he said should be included in any new nuclear treaty with Iran,
including that it “withdraw all forces” from Syria, halt support for Hezbollah
and stop threatening Israel.
Russia have joined forces in Syria, providing crucial military support to
Assad’s forces and giving them the upper hand in the civil war.
President Vladimir Putin told Assad at a meeting last week that a political
settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops
from Syria. Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said Putin was
referring to Iranian forces, among others.
says it is in Syria at the behest of the Assad government and says it is
fighting “terrorism” in the form of Islamic extremists, including the Islamic
State group and al-Qaida.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters that no one can force
Tehran to do anything it doesn’t want to do.
presence in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran
will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants,” he said,
speaking shortly before Pompeo made his remarks.
recapture of IS-held pockets in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk and the
nearby Hajar al-Aswad district in southern Damascus came after a massive
bombing campaign that has all but decimated what was left of the residential
area on the edge of the capital, once home to about 200,000 Palestinian
has been deserted by most of its inhabitants following years of siege, and the
few remaining residents fled to nearby areas in the last days of the
push on the Yarmouk camp came after a group of civilians was evacuated
overnight. State TV showed images of troops moving in, waving the Syrian flag
and flashing victory signs atop wrecked buildings in the destroyed
neighborhood. Some fired in the air in celebration.
boosts morale and security in Assad’s seat of power, putting it out of range of
insurgents’ mortar fire and shells for the first time in nearly seven years.
Iran’s help, Assad’s forces have been making steady gains since 2015, when
Russian launched an air campaign on behalf of his forces. In December 2016,
government forces captured rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern
city of Aleppo, in Assad’s biggest victory since the conflict began.
mix of military pressure and surrender deals brokered by Russia, thousands of
opposition fighters capitulated and were evacuated in March and April from
Damascus suburbs known as eastern Ghouta after a crushing government offensive.
troops and their allies are expected to turn their attention to opposition-held
parts of southern Syria, including Daraa province, in a push that could bring
allied Iranian forces even closer to the increasingly tense frontier with
Israel. Idlib, in the north, remains a major rebel bastion, but government
forces are expected to leave that confrontation to a later stage.
has warned Iran and its proxies to stay away from the border and has carried
out a series of airstrikes on Syrian air bases where it believes Iranian troops
maintain a presence. Earlier this month, it launched a blistering bombardment
of Iranian positions in Syria after an alleged Iranian rocket barrage toward
its positions on the annexed Golan Heights.
Mayhoub, a Syrian army spokesman, declared Damascus and its surroundings
“completely secure” on Monday.
monitoring group said about 1,600 people, including hundreds of IS gunmen, left
the area Saturday and Sunday, heading toward the desert in the east of the
country following a deal with the government. The Britain-based Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights said the month of fighting left scores of dead on
TV earlier quoted an unidentified Syrian military official as saying the
two-day truce had been in place to evacuate women, children and the elderly
Sunday night from Hajar al-Aswad. Syrian state media denied a deal was reached
to evacuate the militants.
Daesh terrorist organization was wiped out in Hajar al-Aswad,” an unidentified
Syrian soldier told state TV, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS. “We will
keep marching until we liberate all parts of Syria.”
Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and
Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.
article was written by Zeina Karam from The Associated Press and was legally
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