|Date: May 4, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Rebels start pullout from south Damascus|
|BEIRUT/THE HAGUE, Netherlands: Syrian rebels began pulling out of an enclave they have surrendered in south Damascus Thursday, but a few fighters in another besieged area near Homs shelled government areas after their groups agreed to quit.|
The enclaves in south Damascus and near Homs are the only besieged areas still held by rebels, though they still control large tracts of northwest and southwest Syria, lying along its international borders, which are not surrounded by the army.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has focused on dislodging rebels from their remaining besieged pockets since driving them from Eastern Ghouta last month after a fierce offensive. Syrian state television showed footage of buses arriving at Beit Sahm, driving through narrow streets surrounded by soldiers and with concrete buildings above showing scars of war.
It later reported that the first batch of buses had departed, carrying fighters and their families from the area.
Some 5,000 fighters and their family members are expected to leave the Beit Sahm, Babila and Yalda neighborhoods for the opposition areas in northern Syria, it reported, following an earlier group that left the enclave Monday.
Elsewhere, insurgents in the biggest of the remaining besieged areas, located between the cities of Hama and Homs around the towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Houleh, also agreed to surrender Wednesday.
However, a small number of them rejected the deal and shelled government areas late Wednesday and early Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and two local sources said.
In Damascus, Daesh (ISIS) fighters holding another part of the same enclave are still fighting after weeks of intense bombardment in the area of Al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.
Syrian troops managed to capture more areas from Daesh on the southern edge of the city cutting the region held by extremists into two parts.
The Hezbollah-run War Media Center said troops cut off the militants based in Yarmouk from those in the Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood to the south.
Yarmouk and Al-Hajar al-Aswad are the last two areas outside government control in Damascus.
The observatory said that since the government offensive on the area began on April 19, 112 soldiers and pro-government gunmen, as well as 91 Daesh fighters have been killed. Dozens of civilians have been killed as well in the fighting, according to the activist group. Off the coast of Syria, meanwhile, a Russian fighter jet crashed Thursday killing both pilots, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, which said the plane did not come under fire.
State news agency Tass cited the ministry as saying the Su-30 crashed shortly after takeoff from the Russian air base at Hmeimim in Syria.
In other developments, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its inspectors are to take the unprecedented step of exhuming some bodies of victims in the town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, and collecting biomedical samples, as they work to verify last month’s alleged chemical attack.