Syrian War Report – May 16, 2018: Syrian Army Liberates Dozens Of Villages In Rastan Pocket

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Syrian forces have re-established control of the area east of the M5 highway in the Rastan pocket in northern Homs now that militants have withdrawn from the area. According to pro-government sources, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are now in control of over 30 settlements located there.

At the same time, the evacuation of militants from the pocket is still ongoing. On May 15, 73 buses left the area.

As soon as the evacuation deal is fully implemented, the SAA will establish full control of the Rastan area. This will allow the Syrian government to start to use more actively the M5 highway, which is a vital supply line linking southern and northern Syria. However, a part of the highway heading through the province of Idlib is still in the hands of militants. According to pro-government sources, this area is one of the targets of upcoming military operations by the SAA and its allies.

In southern Damascus, the SAA and its allies have liberated a number of points near the Quds Mosque in the Yarmouk refugee camp area from ISIS. Government troops have also advanced on ISIS positions in the ​​northern part of the district of al-Hajar al-Aswad.

According to the Syrian media, the SAA has recently captured a workshop for producing IEDs and mortars and a network of tunnels in the recently liberated areas.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have slowed down their anti-ISIS operation in the Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria. According to local sources, the SDF is currently re-supplying its striking force in the area and preparing for a new attempt to capture the village of Hajin from ISIS.

A new round of talks involving Iran, Turkey, Russia, Syria and the Syrian opposition was held in Astana on May 15 and May 16. The Astana talks’  guarantor states – Russia, Iran and Turkey – once again affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and  to combating terrorist groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (currently known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). The sides also stressed the importance of the implementation of de-escalation zones as a temporary measure to limit the violence.

According to experts, one of the key topics of the ongoing negotiations between the sides is the fate of the wide areas controlled by militants in the province of Idlib where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is deeply integrated with the so-called moderate opposition.

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