The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that fighters from other Syrian rebel groups had recently expelled ISIS from the Ghouta, a belt of agricultural land around the eastern half of Damascus.
He said that ISIS fighters had “retreated to the districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam, south of Damascus,” and that battles had broken out between ISIS and other rebels in those towns, where they have “a strong presence,” on Sunday.
“The opposition fighters want to end ISIS’s presence in the areas surrounding Damascus,” said Abdulrahman.
Ismail Al-Darani, a member of the Syrian opposition’s Revolutionary Command Council in the Rif Dimashq governorate, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS had suffered severe setbacks around the capital, and said that fighters from ISIS were now under siege in the areas of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Yalda and Babila.
He said the remnants of the organization are now present in just a few areas in southern Damascus, including Tadamon, after they were driven out of eastern half of Ghouta, a belt of agricultural land around the capital.
“The opposition fighters are pursuing them in all areas here,” Darani said.
The battle to expel ISIS fighters from large swaths of land in Ghouta began three weeks ago, after they had been “accused of executing car bomb explosions, including one in Douma,” an opposition source told Asharq Al-Awsat in reference to a number of bombings that have struck the rebel-held suburb in recent weeks.
The opposition rebels “are now devoted to fighting the regime at the entrances of Ghouta from the south,” the source said, adding that clashes had taken place in the Al-Melaiha area.
Meanwhile, Syrian activists said that opposition forces recently repelled an attack launched by the regime forces on the eastern outskirts of the Jobar district, a northeastern suburb of Damascus, which they said remained under the control of the opposition.
While ISIS has continued to consolidate its control over parts of Iraq and eastern Syria, particularly in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, reports say it is facing increasing pressure in western Syrian from government forces as well as other rebels.
Prior to the recent battles around Damascus, the organization, together with other rebel groups, suffered a major defeat at the hands of government forces in the Qalamoun mountains, along the Lebanese border, in a months-long government offensive which ended in April.
ISIS fighters then moved to Ghouta, where some remnants of the organization were able to regroup for three months, before the battle for their expulsion began.