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Second batch of ISIS militants leave final Damascus stronghold

Published: Updated:

A second batch of ISIS fighters left their final Damascus stronghold overnight, a monitor said Monday, bringing the Syrian regime closer to a major milestone.

The government has so far not confirmed any deal with ISIS but a military source quoted by the official SANA news agency said a brief ceasefire was being observed to allow for the evacuation of civilians.

Yarmouk is the last Damascus district to escape government control and its full evacuation would bring the entire capital and its surroundings under regime control for the first time since 2012.

Government and allied forces started an operation last month to flush out jihadists and other groups from a cluster of neighborhoods in southern Damascus.

They include Yarmouk, which was once home to the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and has been a besieged ISIS stronghold since 2015, as well as the adjacent neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad.

"A second batch of elements from ISIS left after midnight," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"They are heading to a pocket in the desert still under the control of the extremist organization," the Britain-based monitoring group said.

The first group of ISIS fighters was transferred by bus out of southern Damascus on Sunday, the monitor said.

The military source quoted by SANA said a ceasefire that began on Sunday and would remain in place until noon (0900 GMT) on Monday had allowed for the evacuation of women and children from the area.

It said the government would subsequently resume its operations.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used a combination of military pressure and evacuation deals in recent months to recapture territory around the capital from his armed opponents.

The assault against the jihadist force in southern Damascus has left more than 250 pro-regime forces, 233 militants and more than 60 civilians dead, according to the Britain-based Observatory.