Army Encircles ISIS in Homs Desert
Syrian troops and allied fighters encircled the so-called Islamic State in the central desert on Thursday, Reuters reported. Pro-government forces advancing south from the city of Raqqa joined up with their counterparts advancing from the east, effectively surrounding ISIS in a large enclave in Homs.
The ISIS pocket lies west of al-Sukhna, captured by the government earlier this month, and extends north into Hama province. The enclave totals approximately 770 square miles (2,000 square km), Reuters said, citing a Hezbollah media unit.
This is the second time in a month that pro-government forces have surrounded ISIS in central Syria. Last week, Syrian troops and allied fighters encircled a large ISIS enclave to the west of the one they surrounded on Thursday.
The government has been advancing through desert regions in central Syria as part of a multi-pronged push toward ISIS strongholds in the nearby province of Deir Ezzor, one of the last remaining bastions of the militant group in Syria.
Nasrallah: Evacuation Deal Must Be Negotiated With Damascus
The Lebanese government would need to negotiate with Damascus to secure safe passage for ISIS militants into Syria, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Thursday.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Damascus would be ready to cooperate with the Lebanese government to secure the transfer of hundreds of ISIS militants from their positions on the Lebanese border into militant-held areas in eastern Syria, according to Reuters.
“But the condition is an official Lebanese request, and public coordination, not under the table,” he said in a televised speech, hours after claims surfaced that ISIS is trying to strike an evacuation deal with the Lebanese paramilitary group.
Nasrallah also said a joint military operation launched last week by Hezbollah and the Syrian army against ISIS militants entrenched on a section of the Lebanon-Syria border succeeded in expelling them from most of their positions on the Syrian side.
“So far, more than 270 square km [100 square miles] have been fully captured on Syrian land,” he said. “Around 40 square km remain under Daesh [ISIS] control.”
Opposition Under Pressure to Accept Assad Survival
Syria’s main opposition body is coming under pressure to accept the prospect of President Bashar al-Assad staying in power, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
According to the AP, there are internal talks on restructuring the Saudi-based High Negotiation Committee (HNC), the Syrian opposition’s main representative group, to give weight to “conciliatory voices” and representatives perceived to have cordial relations with Damascus.
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir also reportedly told the opposition body that it was time to formulate “a new vision.”
“He didn’t explicitly say Bashar [al-Assad] is going to stay, but if you read between the lines, if you say there needs to be a new vision, what is the most contentious issue out there? It’s whether Bashar stays,” an unidentified individual who mediates between the opposition and state capitals told the AP.
These developments come as the Syrian government has regained vast swathes of territory in the country’s west and foreign patrons have cut their support for embattled rebel groups.
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