Government Pounds Southern Damascus; Rebels Evacuate Enclave Further North
Syrian government forces launched airstrikes and artillery attacks on a militant-held pocket south of Damascus on Sunday, killing two people, the Associated Press reported.
The attacks targeted positions of the so-called Islamic State in the Yarmouk camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country, two days after ISIS reportedly agreed to surrender the area to government forces.
ISIS militants, however, have yet to withdraw from the Yarmouk camp and the nearby Hajar al-Aswad district. Sunday’s attacks are a bid to enforce the evacuation agreement, the AP said.
There are some 6,000 civilians residing in the Yarmouk camp. Chris Gunnes, a spokesman for the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency said most of them had been forcibly displaced to the neighboring area of Yalda since heightened attacks started last week.
Reuters first reported “preparatory shelling” of the area on Tuesday.
The government’s latest push in southern Damascus is part of a wider effort to place the entire capital and its surrounding environs under the hold of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
On Saturday, rebels started leaving an enclave in the eastern Qalamoun region, some 35 miles (60km) northeast of Damascus, as part of an evacuation agreement with the Syrian government, Agence France-Presse reported.
Under the terms of the agreement, thousands of rebels and their families will be granted safe passage to opposition-held territory in Syria’s north. Some are being taken by bus to the northern district of Afrin, which was held by Kurdish forces before Turkey recaptured the area in recent months, AFP said.
The evacuations from eastern Qalamoun come only days after rebels surrendered the nearby town of Dumayr, also in northeast Damascus, to government forces and around two weeks after rebels in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus surrendered their last pocket of territory to government forces.
OPCW Investigators Collects Samples From Site of Suspected Chemical Weapons Attack
A global chemical weapons watchdog said on Saturday that its investigators have collected samples from the site of this month’s suspected chemical weapons attack, the AP reported.
The Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that it visited “one of the sites” in Douma that was reportedly targeted by a suspected poison gas attack on April 7.
It said that its inspectors will collect samples that will be analyzed at the agency’s laboratories, adding it would “consider future steps including another possible visit to Douma.”
The OPCW fact-finding mission will draft a report based on the findings, “as well [as] other information and materials collected by the team.” It will not, however, identify the perpetrator of the attack because that is beyond its official mandate, which is to determine only whether or not a chemical weapons attack did take place.
The U.S., France and the U.K. have held the Syrian government responsible and launched more than 100 missiles on three suspected chemical weapons facilities in Syria in the early hours of April 14 in response to the suspected poison gas attack on Douma. The Syrian government, however, has denied responsibility.
Iraq Says It Killed More Than 30 ISIS Militants in Syria
The Iraqi military said on Sunday that it killed 36 ISIS militants in Thursday’s targeted airstrikes on Syria, the AP reported.
Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said that six ISIS leaders were among those killed when Iraqi warplanes targeted a location at which ISIS fighters were meeting.
The attack was coordinated with the Syrian government.
Thursday’s strikes came after 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.”
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