Syria rebels press offensive against jihadists near Damascus: NGO
BEIRUT - Agence France-Presse
Rebel fighters carry a weapon as they walk towards their position in the town of Morek in Hama province July 20, 2014. REUTERS PhotoSyrian rebels battled jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) near Damascus on Monday, pressing their bid to expel them from their strongholds, a monitoring group said.
Rebels holding positions in southern Damascus and the outskirts of the capital and seeking President Bashar al-Assad's ouster, launched an offensive some three weeks ago to expel IS.
IS was initially welcomed by some rebels as a potential ally in the armed revolt, but the opposition, including Islamists, has turned against it.
IS fighters have in recent days been expelled from the towns of Mesraba and Maydaa, in the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus.
They have also been forced out of Yalda and Beit Sahem, in the capital, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The expelled jihadists fled to Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam in southern Damascus, "where they have a strong presence", said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Then, at dawn on Monday, fighting broke out in the battered neighbourhoods of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and Qadam, pitting rebels against jihadists, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
A rebel spokesman in Damascus province confirmed the reports.
"There were many reasons for the battle against IS, first among them its abuses. They were going into the (rebel) Army of Islam's bases and those of other opposition fighters, and killing fighters in their sleep," said Captain Abdel Rahman al-Shami, a spokesman for the Army of Islam.
"For us, there was no choice but to fight IS. It was in self-defence. We are in a suffocating (regime) siege. We are fighting the regime, while IS is shooting us in the back," Shami said.
"Now, they no longer have any official bases in Eastern Ghouta. But we are chasing the remnants of IS... Overall, IS no longer has a strong presence in the Damascus area," he told AFP via the Internet.
IS controls much of eastern Syria, and it has its main stronghold in Raqa, in the north of the war-torn country.
Rebels seeking Assad's ouster launched a major offensive against IS in January, expelling them from Idlib province in the northwest, as well as much of Aleppo.