Despite claims of an evacuation deal with the Islamic State in towns south of Syria’s capital Damascus, a month-long pro-Assad offensive continued on Sunday.
Syrian State news agency SANA proclaimed, “Army Moves Closer to Finishing Off Terrorists in al-Hajar al-Aswad,” one of the two towns: “The Army’s storming units are engaged in a building-to-building pursuit of terrorists after cordoning them off in a narrow residential area.”
SANA repeated the regime military’s denial of an agreement for ISIS fighters to be moved to the Badia region in eastern Syria, the Jordanian and Iraqi borders.
The agency did not refer to the state of the offensive on the nearby Yarmouk camp — home to more than 200,000 Palestinians before the 2011 uprising — the center of the Islamic State position since early 2015.
On Saturday, pro-Assad blogs and activists declared that the evacuation deal had been concluded, a claim backed by photos of buses entering the area. They said late Sunday that, “despite the Syrian government’s claims”, buses left Yarmouk with “several hundred Islamic State terrorists and their family members”.
But any removals took place amid ongoing fighting. A reporter with Syrian State TV broadcast from al-Hajar al-Aswad as smoke rose behind him, assuring that the pro-Assad operations were nearing their end. SANA said a group of jihadists were holed up in an area in the north of the town.
Unconfirmed claims said ISIS were setting fires to buildings in Yarmouk that they had used as headquarters.
After recapturing the opposition area in East Ghouta to the north and east of the capital, pro-Assad forces launched the offensive to the south. Regime outlets asserted that a victory would be achieved quickly. However, while the offensive soon took part of al-Hajar al-Aswad, it faced stiff ISIS resistance and struggled to make inroads in Yarmouk.
Several thousand civilians are estimated to remain in the area, much of which is devastated after years of fighting and siege.
Rebels in nearby territory such as Yalda, Babila, and Beit Sahm capitulated earlier this month to the regime, with forced removals of fighters and civilians to northern Syria and to Daraa Province in the south near the Jordanian border.