Syria regime advances against IS in south of Damascus
DAMASCUS - Syrian regime forces on Friday advanced against Islamic State group jihadists in the south of Damascus, state media said, after more than a week of bombardment on the area.
"Army units backed by the air force and artillery have advanced on numerous axes" in southern Damascus, including the district of Hajar al-Aswad, "after breaking through terrorist defences", state news agency SANA said.
The advance "inflicted great human and material losses" on the jihadists, it said.
Syrian state television said the army was advancing towards Route 30 in Hajar al-Aswad.
Regime forces have pounded southern districts of Damascus since April 19, after IS refused an evacuation deal for the region.
The areas under regime fire include the neighbourhoods of Hajar al-Aswad and Qadam as well as the adjacent Palestinian camp of Yarmuk.
IS has held parts of Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmuk since 2015 and seized Qadam last month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said pro-government forces took control of "buildings and streets in Hajar al-Aswad and Qadam after attacking the districts at dawn".
Regime forces were locked in violent clashes with IS fighters on Friday morning, the Britain-based monitor said.
Heavy air strikes and shelling had targeted Yarmuk and the edges of Hajjar al-Aswad and Qadam since the early morning.
At least 74 regime personnel and 59 IS fighters have been killed in eight days of fighting, the monitor said.
In that same period, at least 19 civilians have also been killed in regime bombardment of the area including in Yarmuk, it said.
Yarmuk and the surroundings are now IS's largest urban redoubt in Syria or neighbouring Iraq.
The jihadists have lost much of the territory they once controlled in both countries since they declared a cross-border caliphate there in 2014.
Yarmuk was once home to around 160,000 people, but today just a few hundred people remain, the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees has said.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime set its sights on the south of the capital after reconquering a major rebel bastion east of Damascus earlier this month.
Eastern Ghouta fell after a blistering air and ground assault and Russia-backed evacuation deals that saw tens of thousands of people bussed out to northern Syria.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.