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IS jihadists cornered in pocket of south Syria: monitor Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

IS jihadists cornered in pocket of south Syria: monitor

Southern Syria has been devastated by recent regime assaults [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2018

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IS used the release of 30 Druze women and children it kidnapped last week as a bargaining chip to get themselves out of a pocket of Syria's Daraa on Tuesday.

Dozens of Islamic State group fighters were cornered in a pocket of Syria's Daraa on Tuesday after losing all other territory there to a Russian-backed regime assault, a monitor said. 

IS used the release of 30 Druze women and children it kidnapped last week as a bargaining chip to get themselves out, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"There have been talks since yesterday between regime forces and IS to evacuate around 100 IS fighters and their families from the southwest part of Daraa to the Badiya," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The Badiya refers to the vast desert stretching from central Syria to the eastern border with Iraq, and where IS still holds territory. 

"In exchange, IS would release 30 hostages it took from Sweida last week," said Abdel Rahman.

"To put pressure on IS, Russian warplanes carried out strikes on the area today," he added.  

IS abducted the Druze women and children from a remote village in Sweida, a province directly east of Daraa, during a deadly rampage on July 25 that left more than 250 people dead in the minority-populated area.  

IS claimed responsibility for the killings but has made no mention of the kidnappings on its propaganda channels.

However, a video published by local news outlets appeared to show one of the female hostages demanding Syria's government halt its assault on the IS-held part of Daraa.

After recapturing the vast majority of Daraa and neighbouring Quneitra from mainstream rebels, Syrian troops turned to IS areas of control in the two provinces.

Syria's elite Tiger Forces, the Hizballah-linked Special Force, and Fourth Armoured Division - backed by Russian airpower - have led the offensive on the IS enclave.

In around two weeks, they have whittled down IS territory to the "surrounded" zone along the border with Jordan, both the Britain-based Observatory and Syrian state media say.

"[The campaign's success is] probably because of the overwhelming firepower and manpower advantage of the Syrian government, [and] also the intense Russian air raids," Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher on Syrian militias, told The New Arab.

"A number of ex-rebels have joined the fight on the government side."

On Monday, Syrian state news agency SANA said it expected the group would collapse "within days" but made no mention of negotiations. 

The evacuation deal would not be the first between IS and Syrian government representatives. 

In May, jihadists were bussed out of the Yarmouk camp, their last area of control in Damascus, paving the way for the government's full recapture of the capital. 

IS fighters from Yarmouk were transferred to the Badiya, and several local outlets alleged those relocated jihadists carried out the Sweida attacks.

The suicide blasts, shootings, and stabbings were the deadliest ever for Sweida, which is mostly regime-held and had been relatively insulated from Syria's seven-year war. 

Around 260 IS fighters have been killed since the regime launched an offensive on the territories in mid-July. 

Syrian state news agency SANA reported the death of al-Shajara's commander Abu Walid al-Masri during clashes on Monday. The fate of Jaish Khalid bin al-Waleed's other leaders remains unknown.

A number of former rebel groups, including the Youth of Sunna Forces, have taken part in the regime offensive on the Yarmouk Valley.

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