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After Ghouta, Assad now sets sights on Daraa

Khaleej Times 2018-04-15 21:00:00

The capture of Eastern Ghouta is a significant milestone for Syria's regime and paves the way for government troops to shift south to where the seven-year uprising first began: Daraa.

After securing the capital from deadly rockets that once rained in from its suburbs, President Bashar Al Assad now has forces ready to redeploy elsewhere in the war-ravaged country.

The militants that hold the northwest province of Idlib remain a threat, but analysts say Assad's priority will likely be the southern province of Daraa, where protests against his rule first broke out in 2011.

After losing swathes of territory to rebels, Syria's army has regained control of more than 55 per cent of the country with crucial help from its ally Russia, according to analyst Fabrice Balanche. Its most recent victory is in Ghouta: the onetime rebel bastion that has now been neutralised after a blistering air and ground assault and the Russia-brokered evacuation of thousands of rebels and civilians. "The liberation of Eastern Ghouta means lifting the security and military threat posed to Damascus," said Bassam Abou Abdallah, who heads the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies.

"After Ghouta, it's likely the Syrian government will head south - the current situation in Daraa must be finished off," he told. The regime said it had retaken Eastern Ghouta on Saturday after a nearly two-month assault that killed more than 1,700 civilians and the evacuation deals that saw rebels and civilians bussed up to northern Syria. With Ghouta now taken care of, the only risk posed to Damascus stems from a few southern districts still held by the Daesh group, including the Yarmuk Palestinian camp.

Al Watan newspaper said the army will seek to "finish off" those districts, but analysts believe the regime's real interest lies elsewhere.

"Maintaining some Daesh pockets serves the regime's narrative in order to reconquer the rest of Syrian territory," said Julien Theron, a professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.