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Syria Gov't Resumes Anti-IS Offensive  05/21 06:01

   Syrian government forces on Monday resumed their offensive against the 
Islamic State group in the south of Damascus, after evacuating a group of 
civilians from the area, Syrian state TV reported.

   BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian government forces on Monday resumed their offensive 
against the Islamic State group in the south of Damascus, after evacuating a 
group of civilians from the area, Syrian state TV reported.

   The TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying a truce had been in 
place to evacuate women, children and elderly on Sunday night from Damascus' 
southern neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad.

   Shortly before noon Monday, when the truce was supposed to end, government 
warplanes struck IS held areas as Syrian troops began pounding and advancing 
slowly in the remaining IS-held neighborhoods in Damascus, according to state 
TV.

   "The Daesh terrorist organization is living its last hours" in the Damascus 
area, the TV's reporter said, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

   Damascus residents said warplanes were flying over the city again. The 
fighting resumed in the Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood and the nearby Palestinian 
refugee camp of Yarmouk.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring 
group, said some IS fighters were permitted to leave Yarmouk and the adjacent 
al-Tadamon neighborhood. Syria's state media denied a deal was reached to 
evacuate fighters.

   The Observatory said Monday that a new batch of fighters and their families 
left late Sunday, heading east toward the Syrian desert. It added that IS 
fighters have been setting their offices and vehicles on fire so that 
government forces would not be able to seize equipment or documents belonging 
to the group.

   President Bashar Assad's forces launched an offensive against IS militants 
in southern Damascus a month ago. The offensive has brought more than 70 
percent of the area under government control.

   The capture of these southern neighborhoods would bring the entire Syrian 
capital under government control for the first time since the civil war began 
in 2011.

   In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman said Iranian forces will not be 
leaving Syria but would continue fighting "terrorism" there, at the request of 
the Syrian government.

   Bahram Ghasemi told reporters Monday that no one can force Tehran to do 
anything it doesn't desire to do.

   "Our presence in Syria has been based on request by Syrian government and 
Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants," he said.

   Vladimir Putin's envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on Friday that 
the Russian president's statement about the need for foreign troop pullout from 
Syria referred to Iran, Assad's key regional ally.

   Putin told Assad during a meeting Thursday that a political settlement in 
Syria should encourage foreign countries to pull out their troops from Syria.

   Russia and Iran have been Assad's strongest backers and have joined the war 
on his side.


(KA)

 
 
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