Syrian government plans to retake north Homs from rebels next

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from one of the buildings in the city of Homs, Syria March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy/File Photo

DAMASCUS – The Syrian government plans to recover an opposition-held pocket north of Homs city soon after it completes surrender deals with armed groups around the capital Damascus, a Syrian government minister said.

Having taken back the largest rebel-held area near Damascus, eastern Ghouta, in early April, the Syrian army and allied forces are close to recovering the remaining few pockets around the capital. Pro-government forces are bombarding a jihadist enclave in south Damascus where Islamic State holds a pocket next to one held by rebel factions. In recent days rebels in two other enclaves northeast of Damascus, Dumair and east Qalamoun, surrendered and agreed to be transferred by bus to opposition territory in northern Syria.

The Syrian army and its allies have for years employed siege and bombardment tactics to force rebels to surrender their enclaves and agree to be transferred to opposition territory in northern Syria. Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister responsible for national reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview the government would focus on recovering an opposition-held pocket north of the city of Homs after securing the areas around Damascus.

“The issue will not be a long time coming after the final resolution in Qalamoun,” Haidar said.

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