Syrian army declares Damascus area secure after clearing out ISIS-controlled pocket

Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al Assad seen near the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus in April

The Syrian military announced on Monday that Damascus and its surroundings are now "completely safe" after it retook the last neighborhoods in the southern part of the capital held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), The Associated Press reported.

Yarmouk is the last Damascus district to escape government control and its full evacuation would bring the entire capital and its surroundings under regime control for the first time since 2012.

A temporary humanitarian ceasefire had been in place since Sunday night in al-Hajar al-Aswad to allow women, children and old people leave, state media said early on Monday.

Pro-Syrian government forces have been battling for weeks to recover al-Hajar al-Aswad district and the adjacent Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp from Islamic State group since driving anti-government groups from eastern Ghouta in April.

The government has so far not confirmed any deal with ISIS but a military source quoted by the official SANA news agency said a brief ceasefire was being observed to allow for the evacuation of civilians. The concrete camp has been left in ruins.

"Buses carrying families of IS and civilians already arrived to Homs province [in] central Syria, while about 1,000 IS fighters will leave to the Syrian Desert, probably to eastern Deir el-Zour", Ismael said. The offensive has brought more than 70 % of the area under government control.

Syria's war erupted in 2011 with protests against Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, including in the capital.

Syrian president Bashar Assad meets Vladimir Putin for talks in Sochi on May 17
Syrian president Bashar Assad meets Vladimir Putin for talks in Sochi on May 17 Credit MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV AFP

The government has denied reaching a deal with IS.

The Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hizballah, have been key - along with Russian air power - in aiding Syrian government forces to recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country's northern and central areas.

The fighting resumed in the Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood and the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

Daesh militants posted several grisly pictures on their social media accounts purportedly showing regime or allied fighters they beheaded during the operation, which the observatory said also left more than 250 pro-regime fighters dead.

Bahram Ghasemi told reporters Monday that no one can force Tehran to do anything it doesn't desire to do.

Assad's forces have been making steady gains since 2015, when Russian launched an air campaign on behalf of his forces. Mr Putin said he expected foreign forces to withdraw from Syria soon as the political process moves forward.

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