Syrian government says Damascus and surrounds ‘free from militants’


Syria’s military says the country’s capital and surrounding areas are free from militants for the first time in nearly seven years.

The announcement that the Islamic State group has been ousted marks a milestone in the war and comes after government troops captured a southern part of Damascus and the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk.

A military spokesman told state media: “The Syrian army announces today that Damascus, its outskirts and surrounding towns are completely secure.”

Syrian government troops celebrated by firing into the air and waving Syrian flags but all around them were shattered buildings, widespread destruction and uncertainty about the country’s future.

A picture taken during a Syrian army-organised tour on April 20, 2018 shows a man walking down a street past destruction in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus Syrian government says Damascus and surrounds 'free from militants' Syrian government says Damascus and surrounds ‘free from militants’ skynews douma ghouta damascus 4288759
Eastern Ghouta is among the areas left devastated by the conflict

The gain puts the government of Bashar al Assad in its strongest position since the Syrian war began in 2011.

During those seven years, more than half a million people have died and half of the population driven from their homes.

Assad’s troops launched their offensive on southern Damascus a month ago, taking advantage of the gains enjoyed since Russia entered the war on their side in 2015.

Earlier this year, they took eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, after thousands of opposition fighters surrendered.

A Syrian girl opens the bus window after being evacuated from Eastern Ghouta on Sunday Syrian government says Damascus and surrounds 'free from militants' Syrian government says Damascus and surrounds ‘free from militants’ skynews syria eastern ghouta 4264834
Millions of people have had to leave their homes due to the war

Some of the Islamic State fighters have been allowed to leave the Damascus area, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but Syria’s state media has denied there was a deal reached allowing their escape.

The Observatory said that the fighters were heading east toward the desert and that they had been setting their offices and vehicles on fire so that government forces could not use them.

Tehran has already said its forces will not leave Syria but will continue fighting “terrorism” there at the request of the Syrian government.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said: “Our presence in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants.”

Elsewhere, Kurdish forces are in control in much of Syria’s east and northeast; while Turkey has sent forces to the northwest to fend off the Kurds.

In Syria’s southwest, rebels hold territory on the border with Israel and Jordan but moving towards that area with Iranian militias would mean Assad risks conflict with Israel.

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