Conflict

Opposition Groups In Eastern Qalamoun Evacuate To Northwest Syria

Syria

Rebel factions in the Eastern Qalamoun Mountains evacuate to northwestern Syria while the Syrian Army turns its sights to the ISIS-held Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus City.

Dozens of buses carrying thousands of rebel fighters and their families set out to northwestern Syria in what has become an all too familiar sight in the embattled country. The most recent evacuations took place in the Eastern Qalamoun mountains, 60 kilometres northeast of Damascus City.

In contrast to the harrowing evacuation of East Ghouta and the eventsleading up to it’s conclusion, the evacuation of Eastern Qalamoun has been a relatively low-key affair that saw very few clashes. Much of the region has been under an extended state of ceasefire since 2016. Furthermore, Eastern Qalamoun was one of the few regions where the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) supported the rebels against ISIS when the militants pushed towards Damascus City in 2016.

Despite this history, it is undeniable that the rebel defeat in East Ghouta and the subsequent threat of force was a factor in the rebels’ decision to surrender. A number of rebel groups have attempted to put up resistance, but rapid SAA gains around the town of Ruhaybah, in particular, have put an end to it, with all rebel factions subsequently announcing their surrender.

Most estimates put the number of evacuees between 1,500 and 3,200, a number far smaller than what was seen in Eastern Ghouta. In addition to the large number of people who agreed to stay, two Free Syrian Army (FSA) units, the Dumair-based Desert Commandos Brigade of Jaish Osoud al-Sharqiya and a unit of the Ahmed al-Abdo Martyrs Brigade, have defected to the side of the SAA, explaining the lack of rebel resistance in Eastern Qalamoun.

Since the evacuation, the government authorities have instituted authority in the towns of Dumair, Jayroud and Nasiriyah. The SAA, meanwhile, turned its attention to the Yarmouk Refugee Camp and the districts of Tadamoun and Qadam under ISIS control, as well as the districts of Yalda, Babbila and Beit Sahm that are under rebel control and remain in a ceasefire agreement. These districts are the final districts of the entire Damascus Province not under government control.