Syria rebels set to depart enclave in south

Regime has forced rebel pockets to surrender as result of Russian air power

18:04 December 29, 2017

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels prepared to evacuate an enclave in southwestern Syria on Friday in a surrender deal with the government, state media said, as the army thrust into the northwest — the insurgents’ main remaining stronghold.

Regime forces and allied Shiite militias have forced numerous rebel pockets to surrender since Russia brought in heavy air power to help them in 2015, pushing the insurgents into an ever smaller number of enclaves.

Fighters and their families started to leave Beit Jin, 40 kilometres southwest of Damascus, on Friday after losing nearby areas to the army and its allies in heavy fighting earlier this month, state television reported.

Some were heading to Idlib in the northwest, others to rebel territory in the southwest held by nationalist insurgents.

Beit Jin’s location near Israeli-occupied territory made it a strategic flashpoint given the role of Hezbollah — Israel’s sworn enemy — in fighting the rebels there.