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Jihadists on the Syrian capital’s doorstep

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by: Agence France-Presse

The Syrian regime, which declared Saturday that all rebel fighters forces had left the Eastern Ghouta enclave on the eastern edge of Damascus, will now likely turn its attention to jihadists in the capital’s southern districts.

Where are the IS fighters and how did they get there?

– Dwindling rebels –
Damascus witnessed its first anti-government protests in 2011. As the demonstrations spiralled into an armed uprising, rebels seized areas east and south of the capital.

But through a combination of intensive aerial bombardment, siege and evacuation deals, most of these areas have now been depleted of opposition fighters.

With the regime in full control of Eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, its next task will be to rid itself of another foe on its southern doorstep: the Islamic State group.

– Jihadists –
IS has been expelled from most of Syria since it declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of the country and neighbouring Iraq in 2014.

But it retains a presence in eastern desert holdouts — and on the edge of Damascus.

Since 2015, it has controlled large parts of the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and parts of the neighbouring Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun districts, all in the capital’s south.

Last month, IS overran the adjacent Qadam neighbourhood, taking advantage as regime troops focused on a blistering campaign to expel rebels from Eastern Ghouta.

– Palestinian camp –
Once a thriving district home to some 160,000 Syrians and Palestinians, Yarmuk has been devastated since late 2012.

After fighting broke out between regime and rebels that year, 140,000 Palestinians fled the district.

When rebels took control, the government imposed a devastating siege on it, triggering months of hunger and deprivation for the thousands trapped inside.

In 2015, IS overran most of the district, expelling the armed opposition and causing a second wave of fleeing civilians to rebel-held areas nearby.

Al-Qaeda’s former Syrian affiliate maintained a small presence in Yarmuk until it withdrew a few weeks ago.

Another small pocket is controlled by the regime and allied Palestinian fighters.

– Securing Damascus –
The regime has sent pro-government reinforcements to the area near Yarmuk, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its information, says Palestinian fighters are likely to spearhead any assault on the camp.

Expelling IS from the area would place President Bashar al-Assad’s regime back in control of the entirety of Damascus for the first time since 2012.