Southern Damascus offensive (April–May 2018)

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Southern Damascus offensive (April–May 2018)
Part of the Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign of the Syrian Civil War and Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War
2018 Damascus Operation.svg
Map of the operation
Date19 April[6] – 21 May 2018[7][8]
(1 month and 2 days)
Location
Result

Decisive Syrian Army and allies victory

  • The Syrian Army captured the entire rebel-held pocket in south Damascus after reaching an evacuation agreement[9]
  • After major advances[10][11] the Syrian Army reaches an evacuation agreement with ISIL[9]
  • Following ISIL's evacuation, the Syrian military fully took control of the capital and its nearby governorate after 6 years, successfully ending the Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign
Belligerents
 Syria
Palestinian Syrian militias[1]
Hezbollah[2]
Arab Nationalist Guard[3]
 Russia[4]

 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Surrendered

  • Wilayat Dimashq

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham Surrendered
Jaysh al-Islam Surrendered[5]

Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis (remnants) Surrendered[2]
Commanders and leaders
Syria Hassan Yusuf Mohammad [12]
Saed Abd Al-Aal (WIA) (Free Palestine Movement)[13]
Unknown
Units involved

Syrian Armed Forces

Palestinian Syrian militias

Return Forces (Palestinian Hezbollah affiliate)[2]
 Russia

Military of ISIL
Strength
Unknown 1,500–2,500[17]
Casualties and losses
273 killed[18][5]

233–350+ killed[18][19]


19 killed[5]

10 killed[5]
73 civilians killed[18][20]

The Southern Damascus offensive began on 19 April 2018 when the Syrian Armed Forces began to clear an enclave held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in southern Damascus in the Yarmouk Camp.

Background[edit]

In March 2018, ISIL massacred dozens of Syrian soldiers in an offensive for al-Qadam.[21] On 14 April, ISIL then began an offensive on the western axis of the al-Qadam neighborhood[22] and on 15 April, ISIL's forces in the Yarmouk Camp shelled areas held by the government.[23][better source needed] On the same day, the Syrian government began redeploying soldiers from East Ghouta to the area in an attempt to surround the camp.[24][25][26]

Offensive[edit]

The Syrian Air Force bombs rebel positions in southern Damascus, April 2018

On 19 April, after a week of intermittent escalations, the Syrian Arab Army and allied Palestinian militias launched an offensive against the ISIL-held al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood and the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp. Barrages of missiles and artillery shells bombarded ISIL positions in the Yarmouk Camp, Qadam, and Tadamon districts of the ISIL pocket in more than 580 air raids, with local activists reporting at least 15 civilians killed and more than 100 wounded.[27] The Russian air force also provided heavy support to the offensive.[4] Following the barrages, the Syrian Army and allies stormed the western axis of al-Qadam. On 20 April, the army captured the Imam Ali mosque in Tadamon.[28]

While state media and SOHR reported on 20 April that ISIL had agreed to surrender, fighting continued on 23 April. SOHR stated that some militants had rejected the agreement.[29] On 22 April, it was reported that the Syrian army managed to capture Al-Zain neighborhood south of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad.[30] The next day, two Army tanks were reportedly destroyed in the clashes[31] which also left three pro-government Palestinian officers dead.[31] On 24 April, the Syrian Army began dropping leaflets over Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, urging ISIL militants to surrender.[32] The army had also reportedly entered the Joura district of al-Qadam, seizing some buildings and capturing the orchards.[33]

The UNRWA reported around 5,000 Palestinians from Yarmouk were displaced to Yalda between 19 and 24 April, leaving 1,200 residents,[27] although local sources reported 2,500 families[34] or 3,000 people[35] were still there. By 25 April, local sources said that at least 20 civilians had been killed.[34] The UN described Yarmouk Camp as “transformed into a death camp", reporting thousands of homes and the last functioning hospital destroyed.[36] The UK-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria said 60% of the camp had been destroyed in the government offensive by 27 April.[35]

On 25 April, despite facing heavy ISIL resistance, pro-government forces continued to advance on multiple axes of the pocket. Led by Republican Guard units, the Syrian Army continued their advance in the Al-Ma’edhiyah subdistrict, seizing more buildings near the Al-Asali axis.[37] The SAA and allies also made advancements in the Baradi and Baradat neighborhoods in Tadamon.[38]

On 26 April, the ISIL-affiliated Amaq Agency reported they killed three elements of the Syrian army including a lieutenant, while the government made limited gains in al-Hajar al-Aswad. While ISIL and SAA clashed, Tahrir al-Sham units repelled a separate SAA advance in the Yarmouk Camp.[39]

On 27 April, ISIL shelled parts of the al-Qadam district. The SAA made additional advances in other areas in southern Damascus, 20 SAA soldiers were killed and 3 BMPs were damaged according to Amaq in the advances in al-Qadam. Another eight SAA soldiers were killed in advances in the al-Zayn neighborhood. On the same day, Syrian General Hassan Yusuf Mohammad was also killed in clashes in southern Damascus.[12]

Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported on 28 April that the SAA had fully captured al-Qadam, Mazniyeh, Asali, and Jourah.[40] On 29 April, SANA announced that an agreement was made to evacuate Syrian opposition fighters and family members from rebel-held areas east of Yarmouk.[41] It also announced on 30 April that an agreement to evacuate civilians and fighters from Yarmouk was reached with HTS.[42] Evacuations began later in the day[43] and were completed by 1 May, bringing the 15% of Yarmouk that was held by HTS under government control.[44][45]

On May 3, the SAA reported it had captured Munif Al-Anidi school and the cemetery in Hajar-Al Aswad, thus successfully splitting the ISIL-held pocket into two parts.[46] On 4 May, Russian military police reportedly entered Beit Sahem[47] as non-ISIL rebels continued evacuations from their previously-held areas east of Yarmouk.[48] On 5 May, the Syrian Army and the Palestinian militia groups said they had fully captured the southern district of al-Hajar al-Aswad.[49] By 5 May, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced that the Syrian army controlled two-thirds of the camp.[50]

Between 5 and 12 May, both sides suffered heavy casualties as government advances slowed due to ISIL militants being entrenched in tunnels and underground shelters. The militants had also conducted constant counter-attacks.[51] Local sources reported pro-government airstrikes and artillery fire on Yarmouk camp and al-Hajar al-Aswad throughout 7 May, with the aim of separating the two neighbourhoods, with 500 meters of ground gained.[52] Pro-government media reported the killing of Hezbollah's Muhammad Ahmad Hourani and wounding of war correspondent Wasim Aissa during clashes in Yarmouk.[52]

On 16 May, a new pro-government assault on the camp with air strikes and surface-to-surface missiles, with only a few hundred, mainly elderly, residents left inside; dozens of civilians and over 100 fighters on both sides were reported killed.[53] SOHR reported that the SAA fully captured al-Hajar-al-Aswad.[11] On 19 May, Russian and pro-government sources reported a ceasefire between the government and ISIL,[54] although this was denied by official government media, and busloads of ISIL fighters were reported to be evacuated by the government.[55][56] Just after midnight on 20 May, buses entered the ISIL enclave to evacuate the ISIL fighters,[57] while ISIL burned its bases in preparation for the withdrawal.[58] Despite reports of some continuing clashes in the area,[59] the first batch of militants and their family members was evacuated towards the eastern desert.[60]

On 21 May, pro-government troops fully recaptured Yarmouk camp, as ISIL fighters pulled out to deserts east of the city, thus allowing the Syrian Arab Army to fully control the capital after 6 years.[16][61]

Aftermath[edit]

In the month of fighting, a total of at least 73 civilians were reported killed in Yarmouk, and 7,000 people — including 6,200 Palestinians — displaced from their homes.[16] An UNRWA spokesman said 100 to 200 civilians were estimated to still be in Yarmouk.[61] Sheikh Mohammed al-Omari, a cleric loyal to the government, condemned government troops and allied militias for looting homes in the captured neighbourhood.[61] According to The Economist, many Palestinians believe the government plans to redevelop Yarmouk for use by Syrians.[62]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Leith Aboufadel (24 April 2018). "Palestinians fight to retake Yarmouk Camp from ISIS". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (27 April 2018). "The South Damascus Campaign: Interview with Quwat al-Sa'iqa". Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  3. ^ "24 Resistance Axis on Twitter".
  4. ^ a b c "Russian Air Force launches unprecedented number of airstrikes over southern Damascus (video)". 20 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d "Tens of raids target the south of Damascus and the regime forces manage with their allies to advance again in the south of ISIS-controlled areas". SOHR. 27 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Breaking: Syrian Army, Palestinian forces launch offensive in southern Damascus". Al Masdar News. 19 April 2018.
  7. ^ News, ABC. "Syrian government declares capital fully under its control". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Syrian army takes last insurgent area near Damascus". Reuters. 21 May 2018.
  9. ^ a b "Syria: Militant evacuation from Beit Sahm to Jarabulus continues". Al Masdar News. 5 May 2018.
  10. ^ "Breaking: Syrian Army scores massive advance in south Damascus amid total collapse of ISIS defenses". 28 April 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  11. ^ a b "More than two weeks after losing al-Kadam neighborhood and in conjunction of losing in Yarmouk Camp, ISIS loses al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood completely for the regime forces and allies". SOHR. 16 May 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  12. ^ a b Joško Barić (26 April 2018). "– 27th of April 2018". Syrian War Daily. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  13. ^ a b "Victims and large-scale destruction after the hysterical bombardment of Yarmouk camp". Action Group for Palestinians of Syria. 21 April 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Exclusive: Syrian Army's 9th Division shock troops prepare to storm ISIS stronghold (photos)". Al Masdar News. 29 April 2018.
  15. ^ a b c "11 Palestinian refugees died in the ongoing clashes in south Damascus". Action Group for Palestinians of Syria. 23 April 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  16. ^ a b c d e Osama Moussa and Tom Rollins Yarmouk, A Palestinian Tragedy Plays Out In Syria, Mada Masr, 24 May 2018
  17. ^ "Strength of ISIS forces in south Damascus - estimates". Al-Masdar. 3 April 2018.
  18. ^ a b c "In preparation for finishing withdrawal of its members from the capital, ISIS burns its headquarters south of Damascus". SOHR. 20 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Map update: Syrian Army, Palestinian forces reduce ISIS-held territory in south Damascus by 1/3 after week-long battle". 29 April 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  20. ^ 2 killed (19 April),[1] 2 killed (27 April),[2]
    4 killed (9 May),[3] 2 killed (16 May),[4] 1 killed (18 May),[5] total of 11 reported killed in the center of Damascus
  21. ^ "Syrian forces head to southern Damascus for final assault against ISIS pocket". Al-Masdar News. 8 April 2018.
  22. ^ "ISIS launches offensive in southern Damascus after US Coalition bombs Syria". Al-Masdar News. 14 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Syrian War Daily – 15th of April 2018". Syrian War Daily blog. 15 April 2018.
  24. ^ "Syrian Army sends more troops to southern Damascus, thousands of soldiers surround area". Al-Masdar News. 15 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Syrian army braces for new offensive against IS south of Damascus after liberation of Douma - Xinhua - English.news.cn". www.xinhuanet.com.
  26. ^ "Video: Syrian Army amasses forces for upcoming offensive in southern Damascus". Al-Masdar News. 15 April 2018.
  27. ^ a b Farah Najjar Syria's Yarmouk camp: From a 'war on stomachs' to 'annihilation', Al-Jazeera, 24 Apr 2018
  28. ^ "Update: ISIS suffers massive losses in southern Damascus as Syrian Army muscles its way forward – details". Al-Masdar.
  29. ^ "Syrian army targets south Damascus insurgent enclave". Reuters. 23 April 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  30. ^ "Map update: Syrian Army maintains control over key neighborhood in southern Damascus - Muraselon". Muraselon. 22 April 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  31. ^ a b "Syrian War Daily – 23rd of April 2018". 23 April 2018.
  32. ^ "Syrian army helicopters dropping leaflets on Southern Damascus, urging ISIS fighters to surrender".
  33. ^ "Syrian War Daily – 24th of April 2018".
  34. ^ a b Syria regime kills 20 civilians in Yarmouk refugee camp, Middle East Monitor, 25 April 2018
  35. ^ a b Estimated 60 percent of Yarmouk destroyed amid violence: Group, Al-Jazeera27 April 2018
  36. ^ Raf Sanchez Palestinian refugee camp in Syria turns 'unimaginably brutal' as Assad regime drives Isil out of Yarmouk, Daily Telegraph 26 April 2018
  37. ^ "Syrian Army, Palestinian forces advance towards ISIL's southern Damascus HQ". Al-Masdar.
  38. ^ "Summary of events in Syria and the Middle East for April 24, 2018".
  39. ^ ~ Joško Barić (26 April 2018). "– 26th of April 2018". Syrian War Daily. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  40. ^ "Syrian army captures areas near IS stronghold in southern Damascus". Xinhua News Agency. 29 April 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  41. ^ "Syrian govt, rebels reach deal to evacuate fighters form Damascus area". Agence-France Presse. Dawn News Agency. 30 April 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  42. ^ "Syria announces Yarmouk camp evacuation agreement". Al Jazeera. 30 April 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  43. ^ "Parallel evacuations to begin in two besieged pockets as Syrian government moves to clear remaining rebels from capital". Syria Direct. 30 April 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  44. ^ "Armed insurgents evacuate Yarmouk". The Electronic Intifada. 1 May 2018.
  45. ^ "Syria: Convoy of evacuated militants en route from Yarmouk to Idlib (video)". Al Masdar News. 1 May 2018.
  46. ^ "Syrian Arab army split the Isis held pocket into two parts". South Front. 3 May 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  47. ^ "Russian Military police entered Beit Sahm town in Southern Damascus".
  48. ^ "Syria: Buses carrying militants, families to depart Beit Sahm for Jarabulus (video)". Al-Masdar News.
  49. ^ "Syrian Arab Army liberates the southern district of al Hajar al Aswad". South Front. 5 May 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  50. ^ Syrian army controls 65% of Yarmouk Refugee Camp, say Russians, Middle East Monitor May 5, 2018
  51. ^ "Syria fight against IS in Damascus stalls, dozens dead: monitor". AFP. 12 May 2018.
  52. ^ a b Assad’s Forces Advance in Southern Damascus, Further Regime Troops Killed, Enab Baladi, 6 May 2018
  53. ^ Josie Ensor Syrian and Russian forces launch large-scale attack on Palestinian refugee camp controlled by Isil, Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2018
  54. ^ A Ceasefire Agreement in Yarmouk Camp, Enab Baladi, 19 May 2018
  55. ^ Seth Frantzman Catastrophic destruction as Syrian regime pounds Palestinian refugee camp, Jerusalem Post, 20 May
  56. ^ Activists: ISIL fighters withdraw from Syria's Yarmouk, Al-Jazeera, 20 May 2018
  57. ^ "IS militants 'leave Damascus suburbs'". 20 May 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018 – via www.bbc.com.
  58. ^ "In preparation for finishing withdrawal of its members from the capital, ISIS burns its headquarters south of Damascus". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  59. ^ "VIDEO: Buses enter ISIS-held districts in southern Damascus to start evacuation deal". Al-Masdar. 20 May 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  60. ^ "First IS fighters evacuate south Damascus: Monitor". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  61. ^ a b c Syrian cleric condemns 'flagrant looting' after regime captured Yarmouk, Al-Araby 24 May 2018
  62. ^ Syria is erasing the Palestinians’ largest refugee camp, Economist, May 3rd 2018