The Latest: Syria military says it seized Damascus suburb
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Syrian State TV is reporting that the military has captured from rebel fighters a major suburb on the eastern edge of Damascus.
The opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels remain in control of parts of the Qaboun neighborhood, which along with Barzeh and Jobar, formed an arc from the northern to the eastern edge of Damascus.
The Syrian media report says the military recaptured Qaboun Saturday, as the evacuation of adjacent besieged rebel-held neighborhoods was underway.
If confirmed, this increases the government’s security belt around the capital and strips the opposition of another prized territory in the area. Rebels had held onto a number of neighborhoods on the edge of Damascus since the early days of the uprising, representing the most threatening opposition presence near the government’s seat of power.
The evacuation of hundreds of residents of the Barzeh and Tishreen neighborhoods began last week. They were bused out to a rebel-held province in the north following an agreement with the government, emulating previous successful evacuations in other besieged areas that were also criticized as forced displacement.
Syrian Kurdish-led forces were closing in Saturday on the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, seizing a cotton factory only a couple of miles north of the city, activists and Kurdish media reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S-led coalition airstrikes, clashed with the militants in a multi-pronged offensive northeast and northwest of the city. The offensive brings the SDF 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the northeast of the city, the Observatory said. Fighting was also reported about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of Raqqa and 13 kilometers (8 miles) to the northwest, the Observatory said.
The Raqqa Campaign, a Facebook page affiliated with the Kurdish-led forces, said the fighters seized the cotton factory, 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) north of the city on Saturday. Kurdish media also report the factory was captured.
The Kurdish-led forces said Friday they expect to advance on Raqqa this summer, following their capture of a strategic town and dam, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the city.
The activist-run Raqqa Being Slaughtered Silently group said the public markets in Raqqa have been closed, suspecting it is because of how close the clashes have come to the city.
The campaign to recapture Raqqa appeared to be accelerating following a decision by the Trump administration to arm the Kurdish-led forces with heavy weapons, giving a push to their ground partner to move toward the city, held by the militants since 2013.
Turkey strongly objects to Kurdish-led forces leading the campaign. Turkey considers the main component in the Kurdish-led SDF to be an extension of the domestic insurgents it labels as terrorists, and fears their growing influence in northern Syria.