Dozens arrive in north Syria under deal

AL-EIS, Syria: Dozens of fighters arrived in northern Syria on Tuesday under a deal with the regime for them to leave their enclave in southern Damascus, an AFP correspondent said. The fighters from Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate were transferred out of the Yarmuk district late on Monday under a deal announced the previous day.
Early on Tuesday, the Hayat Tahrir al Sham fighters and civilians arrived in the northern province of Aleppo ahead of their transfer to the neighbouring province of Idlib.
In Aleppo’s Al-Eis area, the AFP correspondent saw masked gunmen step off a bus and fire a volley of gunshots into the air before hugging those who had arrived to greet them.
State news agency Sana said 200 people had left Yarmuk late on Monday, but an official from Hayat Tahrir al Sham said the convoy that arrived in Al-Eis included just 108 fighters, 17 women and 16 children.
In parallel under the same deal, Sana said dozens of civilians had arrived in Al-Eis from various areas in Idlib. They included five patients and 18 people accompanying them from the besieged areas of Fuaa and Kafraya, along with 42 people from the area of Ishtabraq, where they had been held hostage since 2015.
For over a week, the army has been pressing a military offensive to retake Yarmuk and surrounding areas, where the IS group also retains a presence.
On Tuesday, another AFP correspondent saw regime war planes pound Yarmuk, once home to the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, as the battle against IS fighters there continued for a 13th day running.
The fighters have held large parts of Yarmuk since 2015.
The Syrian forces launched its offensive there after pro-government fighters reconquered what was once the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta east of the capital last month.
The Damascus regime has retaken large parts of Syria since 2015 with the backing of Russia, but most of Idlib province still lies outside its control.
Meanwhile, US-backed militias on Tuesday relaunched their offensive to seize the last territory IS controls in the east near the border with Iraq.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, had paused the battle after Turkey launched an assault in January against their northwestern Afrin region.
“We have rearranged our ranks,” said Lilwa al Abdallah, spokeswoman for the offensive in oil-rich Deir al-Zor province.
IS militants stepped up attacks there in recent weeks in a bid to reorganise, she told a news conference at an oilfield on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river. “Our heroic forces will liberate these areas and secure the border… We welcome the support of the Iraqi forces.”
Ahmed Abu Khawla, commander of the Deir al-Zor military council fighting under the SDF, said they were working with the Baghdad government and Iraqi army “through a joint operations room” to defeat the militants.
Joint efforts had increased, but neither side would cross the
border, he said. — Agencies