Pro-Syrian Forces Wage Fierce Battle Against Islamic State Near Damascus
Forces loyal to the Syrian regime on Saturday engaged in fierce combat with Islamic State terrorists south of Damascus, in an enclave held by the jihadist group that contains the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. The battle comes just weeks after the Syrian army, backed by Russian airpower and Iranian-aligned Shiite fighters on the ground, recaptured the strategic suburb of eastern Ghouta, located on the outskirts of the capital. An estimated 3,000 ISIS terrorists, which includes members of other groups that have pledged their allegiance, remain scattered throughout Syria, primarily in the eastern desert region and in pockets along the borders with Israel and Jordan; this, after they were ousted last year from their de facto capital Raqqa by U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab forces. That ISIS is again rearing its head raises questions about President Donald Trump’s recent “mission accomplished” declaration in the fight against the terror group. The American leader’s pronouncement came within the context of his desire to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, a move that is opposed by regional Sunni countries as well as the Jewish state on the grounds that such would not only allow the Islamic State to regroup, but also give a freer hand to Iran to further entrench itself militarily in the country while serving to strengthen Moscow’s influence in the broader Middle East. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this weekend asserted following a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts that the three nations need to help President Bashar al-Assad eliminate ISIS in Syria, raising the specter that the alliance could begin targeting its strongholds in the south; in addition to other “terrorists” (essentially any group that is deemed a threat) such as Kurdish YPG units, which Ankara considers an extension of the banned PKK. Israel, in particular, is weary of the former eventuality, given that elements under the direction of Tehran could fill the resulting vacuum along the frontier and then use the territory to launch attacks against it.