Damascus (AFP) – Syria regime air strikes and artillery fire pounded areas held by the Islamic State group in the south of Damascus on Thursday, official media and a war monitor said.
The jihadists have lost most of the territory they once controlled in Syria, but still retain a presence in the country including in the capital’s southern districts.
Regime warplanes targeted “the dens of terrorists from Al-Nusra Front and Daesh in Hajar al-Aswad”, a southern district of Damascus, state news agency SANA said, referring to Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate and using an Arabic acronym for IS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had effectively started a military operation against IS in the south of the capital.
“The military operation against IS in the south of Damascus has started after the failure of negotiations to evacuate” the jihadists from the area, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
The regime strikes and shelling targeted the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, as well as the neighbouring districts of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun.
Since regaining full control of Eastern Ghouta to the northeast of Damascus from rebels last week, the regime has turned its attention to jihadist-held districts in the capital’s south.
For days, it has targeted these areas with shelling and rocket fire.
Since 2015, IS has controlled large parts of Yarmuk as well as parts of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun.
Last month, IS overran the adjacent Qadam neighbourhood, taking advantage as regime troops focused on the blistering campaign to expel opposition fighters from Eastern Ghouta.
– IS attack kills 25 –
IS swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a cross-border “caliphate” in areas seized by the jihadists.
At its height their pseudo-state covered an area the size of Italy, but IS has since lost most of it to a Russia-backed regime assault and a US-backed Kurdish-Arab offensive.
IS now control around five percent of Syria, according to Syria expert Fabrice Balanche.
But the jihadists have retained their ability to carry out deadly attacks. They hold pockets in Deir Ezzor and have a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert.
On Wednesday, IS launched a surprise attack near a town in eastern Syria they had lost six months ago, killing at least 25 regime forces, the Observatory said.
At least 13 jihadists were also killed in the attack which IS carried out near Mayadeen on Wednesday afternoon, it said.
Mayadeen lies in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the western bank of the Euphrates River and is flanked by the Badia desert to its west and south.
Rahman said Thursday morning “IS attempts to advance in the direction of the town of Mayadeen are ongoing” from the Badia desert.
He said it was the “largest IS attack since they were expelled from the town” by regime forces and their allies in October 2017.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, control most of the territory to the east of the Euphrates, where a few villages are still under IS control.
More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.