Syrian army, Islamic State wage fierce battle in south Damascus

Syrian soldiers patrol in al-Joura neighborhood after it was recaptured from Islamic State militants.

Syrian activists say that 17 civilians have been killed in the latest air strikes and shelling of a district south of Damascus.

The camp is in a strategic location near one of the main southern roads into Damascus and rebel forces have often used it to shell government areas in the centre of the city.

Regime forces have pounded southern districts of the capital since April 19 to try to expel the Islamic State group (IS) from the area, after the militants refused to leave under an evacuation deal.

The deal offers the fighters a choice between evacuating the areas with their families or handing over their weapons and staying, added SANA.

The Syrian army has been on a crushing offensive on the Yarmouk Camp and the adjacent Hajar al-Aswad area to drive out IS militants, after the terror-designated group rejected a deal to evacuate these areas earlier this month.

Under the agreement, opposition fighters holed up in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk can travel to the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.

Regime forces were locked in violent clashes with IS fighters on Friday morning, the Britain-based monitor said.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), said, "Yarmouk was a refugee camp that had already been transformed into a death camp, and even in that state it has just experienced a week of really intense fighting".

At least 79 regime fighters and 68 IS jihadists have been killed in nine days of fighting in southern Damascus, the monitor said.

Yarmuk and its surroundings are now IS's largest urban redoubt in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

The militants have lost much of the territory they once controlled in both countries since they declared a cross-border caliphate there in 2014.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this month defeated rebels in their biggest stronghold near Damascus in eastern Ghouta, and has since then focused on ending resistance in several smaller pockets near the Syrian capital.

Eastern Ghouta fell after a brutal military operation and a series of similar evacuation deals brokered by regime ally Russian Federation that saw tens of thousands of residents bussed to northern Syria.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011 with a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

  • Tracy Klein