IS fighters cornered in south Syria pocket

BEIRUT: Dozens of IS group fighters were cornered in a pocket of Syria’s Deraa on Tuesday after losing all other territory there to a Russian-backed Syrian assault, a monitor said.
To get themselves out, IS was using the release of 30 Druze women and children it kidnapped last week as a bargaining chip, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“There have been talks since yesterday between Syrian forces and IS to evacuate around 100 IS fighters and their families from the southwest part of Deraa 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 Deraa, 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 Deraa.
After recapturing the vast majority of Deraa and neighbouring Quneitra from mainstream rebels, Syrian troops turned to IS areas of control in the two provinces.
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.
Syrian state news agency Sana said on Monday 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, militants were bussed out of the Yarmuk camp, their last area of control in Damascus, paving the way for the government’s full recapture of the capital.
IS fighters from Yarmuk were transferred to the Badiya, and several local outlets alleged those relocated militants 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.
Meanwhile, buses reached south-western province of Quneitra on Tuesday to evacuate opposition militants to the north, state media and a government source said.
State news agency Sana reported that the buses will carry the militants and their family members from the town of Jubata al Khashab
and its villages to the rebel-held Idlib province.
A security source said that 12 buses have arrived, and 1,000 militants and their relatives are expected to be evacuated to Hama province and
then to Idlib. — Agencies