SYRIA (OBSERVATORY) – The Syrian army announced its full control of the eastern Qalamoun area on Wednesday with the evacuation of the last batch of opposition fighters, while continuing its violent attack on Yarmouk camp, the last stronghold of the Salami state in the south of the capital.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the capital has remained under the control of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In recent weeks, government forces have tightened their grip on areas adjacent to Damascus, either through evacuation agreements or military operations.
The regime regained control of the eastern Kalamoon area northeast of the capital, 11 days after the eastern province of Gauta, the last stronghold of opposition factions near Damascus, was re-established.
Syrian television reported Wednesday that “terrorist operations with their families from the eastern towns of Qalamoun have ended with the region becoming free from terrorism.” He said that the internal security forces entered Tuesday and Wednesday to Rahiba and Jeroud, where he raised the Syrian flag in the main arena.
Since Saturday, dozens of buses have transported thousands of fighters with their families from Rahiba, Jerud and Nasiriyah to areas controlled by opposition factions in northern Syria.
– “Population replacement” –
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a large number of these buses arrived in the area of Afrin in north-west Syria, controlled by Syrian opposition factions backed by Turkey after the expulsion of units to protect the Kurdish people.
The fighters and their families, evacuated from eastern Qalamoun, were staying at a camp for displaced people in the town of Genderes, a few kilometers from the Turkish border, opposition sources told AFP.
According to expert in the Syrian geography Fabrice Balanche that the transfer of fighters to this region fall under the policy of “replacement of population” pursued by Ankara.
In January, Turkey launched a military operation against fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Afrin, which ended their expulsion from the city on March 18, displacing tens of thousands, mostly Kurds.
The Kurdish People’s Protection and Kurdish officials have accused Ankara of making a demographic change in the region, which the Turkish government denies.
The Syrian regime, backed by its ally Russia, often uses the same strategy against militants: imposing a week-long siege and launching violent bombardments to push militants to agree to evacuation deals from areas where they are heading north.
In the southern part of the capital, the Islamic state refused to evacuate its fighters according to the observatory, causing the regime to launch a heavy bombardment of the last stronghold of the organization in the south of the capital, including the Yarmouk refugee camp and adjacent neighborhoods.
Since 19 April, Syrian forces have been conducting aerial and artillery bombardment of Yarmouk camp day and night. Jihadists are hit by artillery and rocket fire on pro-regime neighborhoods while fighting between the two sides is on the ground.
According to the observatory, there are about a thousand jihadist fighters in the last stronghold of the Islamic state and its fall will allow the regime to control the entire capital and its surroundings for the first time since 2012.
Since Thursday, 61 members of the regime and its allies, 49 members of the Islamic state organization and 19 civilians have been killed, according to a new toll announced by the Syrian Observatory.
– The symbol of Yarmouk –
The situation in Yarmouk camp reflects the tragedy of the war in Syria, which has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions of people since 2011.
Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Before the war, it housed 160,000 people, including Syrians, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Last week, UNRWA expressed its “grave concern about the fate of civilians” in Yarmouk, estimated to have some 6,000 Palestinian refugees inside.
“After years of suffocating siege and fighting, only six or seven thousand people have been left in Yarmouk in recent months, and most of them have apparently fled to nearby neighborhoods, especially to Yilda,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl of Brussels, “In the countryside of Damascus.
He said that Yarmouk “symbolizes the suffering of millions of Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.” He added that the Syrians had lived “untold shocks” and “the Palestinian refugees in Syria (living) for the second time in their history the shock of displacement.”
The UN humanitarian and relief official said Wednesday in Brussels that donors would pledge to provide 4.4 billion dollars in aid for 2018.
The Russian military said on Wednesday that it destroyed on Tuesday evening two aircraft belonging to the Syrian opposition factions near the Hmeimim airbase in western Syria.