DAMASCUS, SYRIA (5:00 A.M.) – Lengthy talks between a delegation of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and commanders of the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) have resulted in a verbal agreement to have the Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in the Yarmouk pocket depart for Idlib province, considered rebel heartland.
HTS controls around 10% of the Yarmouk Camp but also maintains a presence in the neighboring Beit Saem, Yalda and Babila districts.
This residential area will be handed over to the SAA once the final formalities of the deal are negotiated and HTS fighters leave safely to the Idlib governorate.
Some 20% of Yarmouk, a former Palestinian refugee camp and impoverished suburb, is already under SAA control while the rest is controlled by ISIS militants.
HTS and ISIS have long engaged in infighting at the Yarmouk pocket while the SAA has largely refrained from intervening in the rival jihadist onslaught.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups are also operational in the HTS-held residential areas but are yet to respond to the SAA enquiry. ISIS militants will reportedly be offered a similar evacuation deal; if they fail to comply, this will likely prompt the SAA to begin its Yarmouk offensive.
Allied HTS and FSA militants have had a truce agreement in place with the SAA since 2015 which has largely held and caused the otherwise warring parties to trust one another in regards to the newly brokered deal.
The Yarmouk Camp represents one of three rebel pockets around the Syrian capital. The other two are composed of the East Ghouta and Al-Qaboun/Barzeh suburbs; the latter enclave is also expected to fall into government hands shortly.