Syrian army retakes most of the rebel-held district

AMMAN: The Syrian army and its allies are on the verge of completely seizing the rebel-held district of Qaboun on the edge of the capital Damascus following over two months of aerial strikes and artillery shelling, rebels and state media said on Sunday.
But rebels said they still held a small pocket within the neighbourhood that lies in the northeastern edge of the capital that has been mostly reduced to rubble after around 80 days in which it was struck by hundreds of aerial strikes and missiles.
The army had resumed its intensive bombardment in the district on Wednesday after a one-day ultimatum it gave the rebels mainly drawn from the area to surrender and agree to evacuate to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.
“The government has threatened to destroy what is left of Qaboun and will not accept anything but a military solution,” Abdullah al Qabouni from the local council of the district said.
Hundreds of rebels and their families had been evacuated last week from the adjacent Barzeh district after rebels there decided to lay down their arms and leave to rebel-held Idlib province..
They included some from Qaboun.
There were unconfirmed reports from a local source in the district that an agreement had been reached to evacuate the rebels from Qaboun on Sunday. About 1,500 fighters and their families are now trapped in a nearly one square kilometre zone.
A news bulletin on state television said evacuations had begun, quoting the governor of Damascus.
No other details were provided on the numbers.
Most of the residents of the once-bustling area, that had sheltered thousands of displaced people from other parts of Syria in the course of the conflict, had fled in the last two months as the bombing escalated.
The loss of Qaboun following Barzeh is a another blow to rebels battling to keep a foothold in the capital and facing government troops who are backed by Russian air power and other militias.
They are situated on the eastern gate of Damascus, districts which were the scene earlier this year of battles that were the first such large-scale foray inside the capital in over four years. The army was able to repel the attack after heavy aerial bombing forced the rebels to retreat. — Agencies