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Executive Summary for April 20th

We review the key developments in Syria, including president Bashir al-Assad widening his hold over the Damascus region, Iraq launching airstrikes on ISIS positions and the Pentagon saying Assad can still conduct chemical weapons attacks.

Published on April 20, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Rebels Surrender Dumayr; Government Steps up Pressure on Damascus Region

Syrian rebels surrendered a town northeast of Damascus to government forces on Thursday, the Associated Press reported, citing Syrian state media.

Rebels handed over their heavy weapons to government forces and boarded buses that would transport them from the town of Dumayr to opposition-held territory in Syria’s north, as part of a Russian-backed evacuation deal.

State TV showed footage of buses entering Dumayr on Thursday. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said that 1,500 Jaish al-Islam fighters and 3,500 of their family members were set to be transferred to the northern city of Jarablus.

The recapture of Dumayr, which comes a week after the nearby Eastern Ghouta region fell under government control, is part of a wider effort to place the entire Damascus region under the hold of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Rebels in Eastern Qalamoun, a nearby enclave that consists of several towns and an area of hills, say they are also negotiating an agreement with Russian forces, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, pro-government forces gave the so-called Islamic State a window of 48 hours on Thursday to withdraw from an enclave they control south of Damascus. “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.

Iraq Launches Airstrikes Against ISIS Militants in Syria

Iraq carried out airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria on Thursday to defend itself from threats across the border, Reuters reported.

“Carrying out airstrikes on Daesh gangs in Syrian territories is because of the dangers posed by said gangs to Iraqi territories and is proof of the improved capabilities of our armed forces,” the Iraqi military said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

An Iraqi military spokesman said the strikes, which targeted ISIS positions near the border with Iraq, were carried out in coordination with Assad.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said earlier this month that he would “take all necessary measures” against ISIS “if they threaten the security of Iraq.”

Pentagon: Assad Retains Chemical Weapons Capabilities

The Pentagon said the Syrian government retains chemical weapons capabilities despite Saturday’s joint missile attack by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, Reuters reported.

“They do retain a residual capability. It is probably spread throughout the country at a variety of sites,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on Thursday, less than a week after more than 100 missiles hit three chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

“They will have the ability to conduct limited attacks in the future. I would not rule that out,” McKenzie added.

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