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Syria Declares Damascus Fully Under Government Control


A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency on May 14 shows government forces head towards militant positions in the Hajar al-Aswad district on the southern outskirts of Damascus.

The Syrian military said it has taken an enclave in Damascus from Islamic State (IS) militants that gives it full control of the capital for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.

The recapture of IS-held pockets in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk and the nearby Hajar al-Aswad district in southern Damascus on May 21 came after a massive bombing campaign that decimated the remains of the residential area where about 200,000 Palestinian refugees used to live.

The camp has been largely deserted following years of attacks and the last push on the Yarmuk camp came after civilians were evacuated overnight.

State TV showed troops waving the Syrian flag atop wrecked buildings in a destroyed neighborhood.

The gains by President Bashar al-Assad's forces also allowed allied militia groups to secure areas outside the city near the border with Israel.

The Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hizballah, have been key -- along with Russian air power -- in aiding Syrian government forces to recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country's northern and central areas.

Iranian officials have pledged to remain in Syria despite calls by the United States, Israel, and others for it to remove its fighters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Assad at a meeting in Sochi last week that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops from Syria.

Putin's envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentyev, said Putin was referring to, among others, Iranian forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran on May 21 with the "strongest sanctions in history" if Tehran doesn't change course and end its military involvement in other Middle East countries.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters shortly before Pompeo spoke that Iran's presence "in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants."

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
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