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Syria government, rebels reach evacuation deal in southern Damascus: State media

Further deal reached later Sunday for evacuation of Yarmouk refugee camp, where IS militants have been holed up
Smoke plumes rise from explosions in a southern district of the Syrian capital Damascus late on 28 April 2018 (AFP)

The Syrian government and rebels have reached a deal to evacuate opposition fighters from an area of southern Damascus near the site of a government offensive against militants, state media said Sunday.

The announcement comes more than a week into a government assault to oust Islamic State (IS) group militants from the capital's southern suburbs, including the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

On Sunday, state news agency SANA said a deal had been reached to evacuate opposition fighters and members of their families from rebel-held areas east of Yarmouk.

SANA reported "an agreement reached between the Syrian government and terrorist groups in southern Damascus, in the areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem," using its usual term for all rebels.

The deal gives fighters the choice between leaving the area with their families or handing over their weapons and staying, SANA said.

The reported deal is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the government retake areas near the capital after rebel withdrawals.

A further deal was reached for the evacuation of Yarmouk, where IS militants have been holed up, state media reported late Sunday.

Over the past two days, the army has retaken large parts of the district of Qadam on Yarmouk's western flank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights added.

On Saturday, IS seized a hospital and surrounding buildings on the eastern edges of Yarmouk as it tried to push towards Yalda, the Observatory said.

On Sunday, government war planes pounded Yarmouk and the neighbouring district of Hajar al-Aswad, it said.

Yarmouk and its surroundings have been the militant group's largest urban redoubt in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, after IS lost most of the swaths of territory it once held in both countries.

The militants have held parts of Yarmouk and Hajar al-Aswad since 2015, and overran Qadam in a surprise assault last month.

At least 85 government fighters and 74 IS militants have been killed in 10 days of fighting in southern Damascus, the Observatory said.

The announcement of an evacuation deal on Yalda and nearby areas comes after the government reconquered what was once a key rebel bastion east of Damascus earlier this month.

Eastern Ghouta fell after a brutal military operation and a series of similar evacuation deals brokered by government ally Russia that saw tens of thousands of residents bussed to northern Syria.

More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria's civil war in 2011 with a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

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