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Syria Says Capital Is Free of Militants after Defeat of IS


FILE - A Syrian soldier, with a tank in the background, is seen in the al-Qadam area near the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, April 29, 2018.

A Syrian military spokesman says that government forces have recaptured the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, outside Damascus, along with two adjoining neighborhoods that were under the control of the Islamic State group. With the victory, the Syrian government now controls all of the capital and its surrounding regions.

Syrian government soldiers fired their rifles into the air to celebrate the recapture of the Yarmouk camp Monday, after a long and bitter battle with IS militants controlling the area. The adjacent neighborhoods of Hajjar al Aswad and Tadamun were also retaken.

The Syrian spokesman says the areas were recaptured after a series of operations, and that many Islamic State militants were taken prisoner, giving the government complete control over Damascus' eastern and western Ghouta suburbs and defeating the most virulent militant groups.

A Syrian army officer said the victory was a wonderful recompense for the sacrifices made by government forces:

He said this was a victory for those who were injured or who lost their lives in the battle against the terrorists to return the regions to their residents and government control.

Arab media reported many IS militants were allowed to leave the Yarmouk camp in exchange for their surrender. Saudi-owned al Hayat newspaper reported the militants were evacuated to desert regions in the east of the country.

American University of Beirut professor Hilal Khashan tells VOA other Palestinian factions loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad negotiated with the IS militants to secure the Yarmouk camp surrender. He expects the government to now attempt to recapture the largest rebel-held city of Idlib, near the Turkish border.

"The completion of the battle for greater Damascus allows the regime to take the battle elsewhere. Now they have spare forces that they can commit to the battle in Idlib. It is unlikely that a battle could be started on the Golan or near the Jordanian border. So, I think the battle for Idlib will be waged soon," he said.

Khashan added Syrian government control over Yarmouk will end rocket launches at the center of Damascus.

The Yarmouk camp had been under the control of IS militants since 2014, when they defeated the rival Jabhat al Nusra group. Khashan stressed there were no recent casualty figures for residents of Yarmouk, but figures from 2015 indicated more than 7,000 residents were killed by fighting inside the camp.

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