Beirut (AFP) – Syria regime forces backed by air strikes and artillery fire were locked in violent clashes with jihadists on Saturday in a push to expel them from southern Damascus, a Britain-based monitor said.
Government troops battled Islamic State fighters in the neighbourhood of Qadam and nearby southern areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights monitor said.
Regime forces are seeking to oust the jihadists from the capital’s southern doorstep, where government bombardment has intensified since April 19.
IS overran Qadam last month, and has held parts of the adjacent district of Hajar al-Aswad and the neighbouring Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk since 2015.
“Violent clashes are ongoing between both sides in Qadam, where regime forces were able to advance in parts of its Mazaniyeh quarter,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
State news agency SANA said army units “are advancing on several axes in the neighbourhoods of Qadam and Mazaniyeh and extending their control over a number of buildings”.
On Friday, regime forces seized control of buildings inside both Qadam and Hajar al-Aswad, the Observatory said.
Yarmuk and its surroundings are now IS’s largest urban redoubt in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
At least 79 regime fighters and 68 IS jihadists have been killed in nine days of fighting in southern Damascus, the monitor said.
At least 36 civilians have been killed in regime bombardment during the same period, it said. Among the dead are 17 civilians, including seven children, that were killed in Yarmuk on Friday.
IS jihadists have lost much of the territory they once controlled in Syria and Iraq, part of their cross-border “caliphate” declared in 2014.
The government offensive in Damascus comes as part of a regime push to restore full control over the capital.
Last month it seized Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel stronghold near Damascus.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.