Syria war: IS militants ‘leave Damascus suburbs’

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Syrian government forces near Yarmouk refugee camp - 29 April Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Syrian forces say they are clearing the area of militants

Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group have been evacuated from an enclave in the southern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus, activists say.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a temporary ceasefire had come into effect following heavy bombardment by the Syrian military.

But Syrian officials denied there was any ceasefire, and have made no mention of the reported evacuation.

The area includes the once-thriving Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

The SOHR said buses had entered the enclave, centred around the al-Hajar al-Aswad district, after midnight local time and left towards Badia, a thinly populated area east of Damascus where IS still holds some territory.

The reported move follows an apparent lull in fighting around midday on Saturday. Pro-government forces have been fighting to regain the enclave since 19 April.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said army operations in the area were nearing their end and insurgent lines were collapsing.

No mention was made on TV of any ceasefire or evacuation.

The enclave comprises the suburbs of Yarmouk, Tadamun, Qadam and al-Hajar al-Aswad.

The Yarmouk camp once contained more than 100,000 mostly Palestinian refugees but only a few hundred people are now thought to remain.

Negotiated withdrawals have become a familiar feature of the war as the government, backed by Russia and Iran, reclaims territory.

Rebels have mostly been allowed to go to northwestern Syria, where they still hold territory.

Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the SOHR.

More than half the population of 22 million have been driven from their homes with at least 6.1 million Syrians internally displaced, and another 5.6 million living abroad, the vast majority of them in neighbouring countries like Lebanon.

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