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The Syrian government plans to recapture north Homs from rebels: ministers



DAMASCUS (Reuters) – The Syrian government plans to recapture an oppositional pocket north of the city of Homs shortly after the conclusion of the capitulation agreement with armed groups around the capital, Damascus, a Syrian government minister said Tuesday.

People walk in a street during a media tour in Douma near Damascus, Syria, April 23, 201
8. REUTERS / Ali Hashisho

After seeing the largest rebel area near Damascus, East Ghouta, in early April, The Syrian army and allied troops are on the verge of recovering the few remaining pockets around the capital.

Pro-government forces are bombing a jihad enclave in southern Damascus, where the Islamic State holds a bag next to a rebel group.

Over the last few days, rebels in two other enclaves northeast of Damascus, Dumair and East Qalamoun, have volunteered to take the bus to an opposition area in northern Syria.

For years, the Syrian army and its allies have used siege and bombing tactics to persuade rebels to abandon their enclaves and agreed to be transferred to the oppositional territory of northern Syria.

Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister responsible for national reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview that after securing the Damascus area, the government would focus on restoring an opposition pocket north of the city of Homs.

"The issue will not be long after the final decision in Qalamoun," Haidar said.

Haidar said the government has been dropping leaflets and communicating with rebels in opposition cities in Rastan, Talbişeh and Houla in the northern province of Homs.

"Today there is serious work in this area," he said.

"Armed groups are waiting to feel the seriousness and determination of the state's military action before seriously engaging in a reconciliation agreement."

Haidar said that such reconciliation actions are also offered to the rebels in southern Syria escalation zone was agreed last year by the United States and Russia.

"The options are open: full reconciliation or military action where needed."

But he pointed out that the reconquest of Damascus and Homs – the last rebel areas completely besieged by the government – were the immediate priorities.

On Friday, state media reported that insurgents have surrendered to the south of the Damascus Enclave, which includes the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, the Hajar al-Aswad district and adjacent areas.

But pro-Syrian government forces bombed the area until Tuesday.

Haidar said the militants had later rejected the deal and the military option was now being used.

On Tuesday, Syrian state media showed footage of smoke from the Hajar al-Aswad area south of Damascus, saying the bombing targets militant positions.

Report by Kinda Mekieh in Damascus, Letter from Lisa Barrington and Dahlia Take in Beirut, adaptation by William Maclean


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