The Syrian government announced it had secured full control of the capital Damascus for the first time since 2011 yesterday, after the regime captured an enclave in the south of the city held by Daesh militants.
“Damascus and its surroundings, its countryside and its towns, are completely secure … [following] a series of intensive and successive military operations,” spokesman General Ali Mayhoub said on state television, with the number of casualties exceeding 500 people on all sides.
Over the weekend, the few hundred civilians that had remained left the Yarmouk refugee camp via bus, heading for the northern opposition stronghold of Idlib. The evacuation process is expected to continue, with an estimated 600 Daesh fighters due to head to pockets in the east of the country, following an agreement with the regime after a month of aerial bombardment.
The Syrian regime began in mid-April an intensive attack on Yarmouk, killing scores of people and injuring many more. The campaign left tens of thousands displaced in an area which is home primarily to Palestinian refugees, has been under siege for most of the seven-year-old civil war, prompting severe condemnation from the UN.
With Damascus secured, the Syrian military will now focus on the southern provinces of Daraa and Al-Quneitra held by the opposition, which have long been a problem for the government.
The regime has successfully retaken much of its former territory from opposition forces, since its ally Russia entered the conflict in 2015, turning the tide in favour of the government. Moscow and Damascus have employed a strategy of crushing smaller opposition outposts in the country and evacuating fighters and civilians to Idlib in the north.
Last week, Russian presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentyev threatened to eliminate Syrian opposition factions that resisted deportation, referencing groups in Eastern Ghouta who had struggled against the Syrian regime’s onslaught last month.
The mass evacuation of fighters and civilians has prompted fear of a regime assault on the northern opposition territory, with special envoy to Syria warning that such action against Idlib would be “six times” more destructive than the battle to recapture Ghouta, which fell last month after years of siege.
“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Syria conflict.
Despite Russia agreeing that the de-escalation status of Idlib must be protected, the governorate has continued to come under bombardment by warplanes. Airstrikes on the residential area of Ariha city killed two girls last week, with the White Helmets defence unit reporting that Syrian regime strikes had left at least eight civilians dead.