‘Unique’ op to eliminate militants in Syria’s southern provinces completed – Moscow

‘Unique’ op to eliminate militants in Syria’s southern provinces completed – Moscow
Syrian government forces and militant groups which chose to support them have succeeded in eliminating the remaining pockets of jihadists in southwestern Syria, the Russian military says.

The governorates of As-Suwayda, Daraa, and Quneitra have been fully seized by Syrian government troops, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of operations of the Russian General Staff, reported on Thursday. He called the operation, which has been going on for the past month, “unique,” announcing that the final pocket of resistance of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group in Quneitra was overrun on Wednesday. More than 160 Islamist fighters were taken captive.

The success comes after several armed groups in the area, persuaded by Russia’s offer of amnesty, chose to stop fighting Damascus and side with government troops to fight against the radical jihadists, the Russian general said.

Others were also given a choice.

“The militants were offered the options to either receive amnesty and return to peaceful lives or take their families and go to the Idlib governorate,” Rudskoy said. “An overwhelming majority of the members of the armed groups chose to stay in their home villages and towns.”

Rudskoy said that almost 10,000 people were given free passage to Idlib, including almost 4,300 fighters. The disarmed insurgents surrendered over 650 pieces of military hardware, including 39 tanks, 29 armored vehicles, 35 anti-aircraft cannons, 17 multiple-rocket launchers, and dozens of other vehicles.

The progress also allowed international observers, who withdrew in 2012, to return to the border between Syria and the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights, the general said. UN monitors were offered the protection of Russian military police to carry out their mission. Russian troops are also involved in assisting the local population in the liberated area with policing, distribution of humanitarian aid, and removal of explosives. The effort is meant to provide the opportunity for refugees and internally displaced individuals to return to their homes soon, Rudskoy said.

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The general also criticized the US military outpost in Syria’s al-Tanf area on the border with Jordan, saying that an increasing number of jihadist troops have been taking refuge in the area and launching attacks from it on government-controlled parts of Syria.

“Of special concern for us is the situation in the Rukban refugee camp, where 60,000 people are living in harsh conditions and where terrorists find shelter. The situation needs immediate resolution,” he said. “Our American partners should provide humanitarian access to Rukban as soon as possible, provide passage for the refugees to their home areas and withdraw the base from al-Tanf.”

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