WED 23 - 5 - 2018
Apr 30, 2018
The Daily Star
Regime forces capture, lose villages east of Euphrates
BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Syrian government forces Sunday briefly captured four villages east of the Euphrates River in the province of Deir al-Zor after rare clashes with U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters before losing the area in a counteroffensive by the Kurdish-led force. The area close to the border with Iraq has been the site of clashes between the two sides who had been focusing on fighting Daesh (ISIS).
In southern Damascus, meanwhile, a deal was reached with “terrorist groups” in the Yarmouk camp, where militants have been holed up, to allow them safe passage to rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria.
In eastern Syria, crossings into the east bank of the Euphrates by government forces have been rare.
State news agency SANA said the villages were held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, adding that they are close to the provincial capital, also called Deir al-Zor. The SDF said in a statement later that it regained control of the whole area it earlier lost.
Much of Deir al-Zor province was held by Daesh but over the past year regime forces captured most areas west of the Euphrates while SDF fighters took areas east of the river.
On Feb. 7, pro-Syrian government fighters attacked SDF positions east of the river and faced a ferocious U.S. counterattack that left dozens, including Russians, dead.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel said in a statement earlier Sunday that the Syrian army attack coincided with “our forces’ preparations to complete the Island Storm campaign” to liberate the remaining areas east of the river from Daesh.
Gabriel said the Syrian army and pro-government fighters began targeting SDF fighters to impede “the launching of our campaign against terrorism. Our forces are responding in self-defense.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday’s offensive left six SDF fighters dead and 22 wounded and there were also casualties on the regime side.
Gabriel said Syrian troops were backed by Russian fighters, adding that after the SDF’s counteroffensive, government forces “are now far away.” The observatory’s chief Rami Abdel-Rahman said SDF fighters took back most of the area except for one village.
The fighting in eastern Syria came as Syrian state media reported that the deal reached with militants in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk would see “terrorist groups” transferred to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.
In return, thousands of people in two besieged Shiite villages in the province, Al-Foua and Kfarya, would evacuate over two phases. SANA said the deal’s implementation would begin Monday. It did not mention which rebel groups were included.
The deal comes hours after the Syrian government and rebels agreed to evacuate opposition fighters, from the last three rebel-held suburbs of the capital Damascus, according to the news agency.
SANA added that the deal will let opposition fighters who want to evacuate the area head to rebel-held regions while those who decide to stay can hand over their weapons and benefit from an amnesty.
The observatory said rebels who leave will head to Idlib province, the northern town of Jarablus and the southern province of Deraa, which borders Jordan.
The three suburbs of Babila, Beit Sahm and Yalda have been held by rebels for years and their capture would bring all suburbs of the capital under government control.
Government forces captured more areas from Daesh in the nearby Yarmouk camp and the neighborhood of Al-Hajar al-Aswad, both of which were pounded by airstrikes Sunday.
SANA said troops captured most of the Qadam neighborhood as well as the Assali and Joura quarters in Al-Hajar al-Aswad. with Agencies
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