Syria and IS 'reach truce' after south Damascus battles, despite civilian deaths

Syria and IS 'reach truce' after south Damascus battles, despite civilian deaths
A ceasefire agreement between IS and the Syrian regime was declared on Saturday, despite reports of the regime continuing their siege, resulting in the deaths of seven Palestinian refugees.
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A boy gestures from one of the buses 'evacuating' Yarmouk camp's fighters and civilians [Getty]
Syrian regime forces and the Islamic State group observed a brief ceasefire in southern Damascus on Saturday, a monitor said, after weeks of deadly fighting in the militants' last stronghold in the Syrian capital.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad last month launched a wide-scale offensive against IS in Damascus' Hajar al-Aswad district and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. Clashes have inflicted heavy losses on both sides. 

"A ceasefire came into effect at midday today, ostensibly for five hours," the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.  

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP late on Saturday that the truce, which may be a prelude to the evacuation of IS fighters from the area, was still in effect.

He said the ceasefire had been negotiated by regime ally Russia and pro-regime Palestinian factions. 

Syria's state-run SANA news agency however quoted a military source as denying the agreement. 

Loyalist forces launched a ferocious assault in southern Damascus after capturing the Eastern Ghouta rebel stronghold near the capital after a devastating siege in April.

They have already retaken the Qadam neighbourhood, but IS retain control of around 70 percent of Yarmouk.  

According to Observatory, fighting in southern Damascus has killed 484 IS members and more than 250 pro-regime fighters as well as 56 civilians.

In spite of the ceasefire announcement, seven Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk were reported killed on Saturday, after heavy regime shelling hit a shelter where civilians were hiding from the renewed regime assault.

Sources told The New Arab that two elderly women and a child were among those killed.

Once a thriving district home to some 160,000 Palestinians and Syrians, Yarmouk's population has fallen to just a few hundred people.  

Syria's war has left more than 350,000 people dead since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests, before spiralling into a complex conflict involving world powers and extremist factions.