Syria rebels exit towns near Damascus, leaving only Daesh

Fifteen buses carrying hundreds of fighters and their relatives left the towns of Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham on the southern edge of Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018
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Syria rebels exit towns near Damascus, leaving only Daesh

  • Fifteen buses carrying hundreds of fighters and their relatives left the towns of Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham on the southern edge of Damascus
  • Government forces have been pressing a ferocious weeks-long assault against Daesh

BEIRUT: Hundreds of Syrian rebels left an area south of Damascus on Thursday, a monitor and state media said, leaving the capital threatened only by Daesh.
Fifteen buses carrying hundreds of fighters and their relatives left the towns of Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham on the southern edge of Damascus, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
“The convoy is on its way to opposition territory in northern Syria,” the Observatory told AFP.
In all, the Observatory said, 8,400 people had been evacuated from the three towns since a deal was reached one week ago for the negotiated withdrawals.
“For the first time since 2011, there are no opposition fighters in or around Damascus except the Daesh group,” said Rami Abdel Rahman using a name for Daesh, director of the Britain-based monitor.
Daesh still controls a pocket of territory inside the Yarmuk Palestinian camp and the adjacent Hajjar Al-Aswad district, both inside Damascus.
Government forces have been pressing a ferocious weeks-long assault against them there and continued to carry out air strikes there on Thursday.
The agreement for Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham was reached on May 3 and follows a pattern of similar deals through which Syria’s government has recaptured swathes of territory around Damascus.
“Yalda, Babila, and Beit Saham south of Damascus have been cleared of terrorism, after the final wave of terrorists who did not want to reconcile (with the government) left to northern Syria with their families,” said state news agency SANA.
It said government security forces were preparing to enter the three towns, which had for several years fallen under a “reconciliation” agreement with the Syrian state.
That meant they remained in rebel hands but a local cease-fire was enforced.
This year, however, President Bashar Assad has appeared more determined than ever to secure the entirety of the capital and its surroundings with a blend of military pressure and negotiated withdrawals.
It used the same strategy on the Eastern Ghouta rebel stronghold, which it recaptured last month, and on an area northeast of the capital.
bur/mjg/dv


Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

Updated 14 min 1 sec ago
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Iraq lifts nearly 30 km of blast walls from Baghdad: official

BAGHDAD: Iraqi authorities have removed nearly 30 kilometers of concrete blast walls across Baghdad in the last six months, mostly around the capital’s high-security Green Zone, a senior official told AFP.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, T-walls — thick barriers about six meters tall and one meter wide — have surrounded potential targets of car bombs or other attacks.
When premier Adel Abdel Mahdi came to power last year, he promised to remove barriers, checkpoints and other security measures to make Baghdad easier to navigate.
“Over the last six months, we removed 18,000 T-walls in Baghdad, including 14,000 in the Green Zone alone,” said Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the PM’s top military adviser.
Hundreds of the security checkpoints that contributed to Baghdad’s notorious traffic jams have also been removed.
And according to the Baghdad municipality, 600 streets that had been closed off to public access have been opened in the last six months.
Among them are key routes crossing through Baghdad’s Green Zone, the enclave where government buildings, UN agencies and embassies including the US and UK missions are based.
It was long inaccessible to most Iraqis until an order from Abdel Mahdi last year, and families can now be seen picking their way across its manicured parks for sunset pictures.
Iraq is living a rare period of calm after consecutive decades of violence, which for Baghdad peaked during the sectarian battles from 2006 to 2008.
It was followed, in 2014, by Daesh’s sweep across a third of the country and a three-year battle to oust the militants from their urban strongholds.
The group still wages hit-and-run attacks against Iraqi security forces and government targets, and Baghdad’s authorities are on high alert.
Thousands of the removed T-walls have been placed on Baghdad’s outskirts to prevent infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells, according to Bayati.