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Executive Summary for April 19th

We review the key developments in Syria, including the Syrian army giving ISIS 48 hours to surrender an enclave south of Damascus, nearly 500 people returning to Syria from Lebanon, and gunmen opening fire on a U.N. team in Douma.

Published on April 19, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

ISIS Given 48 Hours to Surrender Pocket South of Damascus: Report

Pro-government forces have given the so-called Islamic State a window of 48 hours to withdraw from an enclave they control south of Damascus, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing a pro-government newspaper.

“If they refuse, the army and supporting forces are ready to launch a military operation to end the presence of the organization in the area,” al-Watan newspaper said, according to Reuters.

ISIS currently holds positions in the Yarmouk camp – Syria’s biggest camp for Palestinian refugees – and the al-Hajar al-Aswad district south of Damascus. The Syrian army started shelling the area on Tuesday, ahead of a potential all-out assault.

Recovering the Yarmouk camp and the al-Hajar al-Aswad area would give Syrian president Bashar al-Assad complete control over Syria’s capital.

Hundreds of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Return to Syria

Around 500 Syrian refugees left Shebaa in southeast Lebanon for the Beit Jinn district of Syria on Wednesday in the most recent case of mass repatriation from Lebanon, Reuters reported.

The refugees boarded 15 buses headed toward Beit Jinn, southwest of Damascus, which government forces recaptured from rebels in December. According to the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, most of the repatriates originally hail from Beit Jinn, an area 10km (6 miles) east of the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Citing Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency, Reuters said the transfer was organized by the Lebanese authorities. The Lebanese army, general security and the Red Cross escorted the convoy to the Lebanese border, the Daily Star reported.

The United Nations refugee agency, however, said it did not play a role in the repatriation effort. “UNHCR is not involved in the organization of these returns or other returns at this point, considering the prevailing humanitarian and security situation in Syria,” it said in a statement.

Lebanon hosts more than 1 million U.N.-registered Syrian refugees.

Unknown Gunmen Open Fire on U.N. Team in Douma

Unknown assailants on Tuesday opened fire on a U.N. security team inspecting the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma ahead of a visit by chemical weapons investigators, the Associated Press reported.

Gunmen also detonated an explosive device during Tuesday’s mysterious assault, forcing the security team to retreat back to Damascus, the AP said, citing the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

An OPCW fact-finding mission was supposed to deploy in Douma on Saturday to commence investigations into this month’s suspected chemical weapons attack on the town. However, Russia and the Syrian government blocked access because of security concerns.

Russia then said investigators would be allowed to access Douma on Wednesday, after a U.N. security team deemed the area safe enough for the fact-finding mission. Tuesday’s incident, however, has further delayed the OPCW’s deployment, according to the AP.

U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis warned on Wednesday of the risk of evidence being tampered with as the delays drag on. “We are very much aware of the delay that the regime imposed on that delegation. But we are also very much aware of how they have operated in the past … In other words, using the pause after a strike like that to try to clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in,” Mattis said.

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