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    Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), residents of the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, Syria, queue to receive food supplies (File)

    Total Liberation of Damascus Makes Refugee Return, Normal Life Possible

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    On Monday, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) took full control of Damascus - city, suburbs and countryside - for the first time since the civil war began seven years ago. Sputnik spoke to Rick Sterling, an investigative journalist and member of the Syria Solidarity Movement, to discuss what the liberation of Damascus means for the protracted war.

    ​In April, the SAA began an operation to retake Yarmouk Camp from terrorists who had been occupying it since the onset of the war in 2011. Yarmouk had housed Palestinian refugees since 1957 before it was overcome by terrorists.

    "It was just announced yesterday, the first time in seven years, that all of Damascus is freed of the armed opposition — the terrorists who have controlled pockets and regions and have launched mortars into Damascus since 2011 — so it's a big deal," Sterling told Loud & Clear hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker. 

    "Yarmouk is basically south of Damascus proper. It's just like an urban area. I visited there in 2015 just on the border of Yarmouk where there was an actual demarcation line that we couldn't go beyond because it was under control of the terrorists," Sterling explained to Radio Sputnik. "When I say terrorists, we're talking about official ISIS [Daesh], who are the core elements there that controlled the camp for the last couple of years. The civilians all departed long ago."

    Despite Daesh's reputation for bloodlust, the "recapture ended up happening without much of a fight," Sterling noted. "The civilians, who were basically family members of the terrorists… were taken to Idlib and the terrorists themselves were not; they were taken into the desert in eastern Syria."

    While it remains unclear what exactly the fate of those terrorists was, it would seem to differ from that of militants who were caught or surrendered during the liberation of Aleppo, who were granted safe passage to the northern Syrian province of Idlib, near the Turkish border. 

    "Despite the claims that the terrorists were never going to be taken away alive, they ended up coming to an agreement. Another remarkable element that has… been largely ignored in the Western media is the role of the Russians and the Syrians in doing these negotiations, which minimized the loss of life… it's been done with less bloodshed than would have been necessary if they had just bombed the hell out of it, the way the US coalition did in Raqqa," Sterling said of the 2017 US-SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) operation, which saw the destruction of Daesh's self-declared capital.

    "Another feature that's really significant here is that the recapture of Yarmouk was led by the Liwa al-Quds (Jerusalem Brigade), which is the Palestinian militia, with backup from the Syrian Arab Army. They keep that distinction there," Sterling said. 

    Sterling said that in due time, the Palestinian refugees, now living as Syrian refugees, will make their way back to their homes in Syria. "Once they've cleared away the bombs, made it safe, and they've restored electricity and running water, then refugees are going to be pouring back into the area just as they're pouring back into Eastern Aleppo today, a year and a quarter after it was liberated from the clutches of the armed opposition."

    "They're anxious to go back home," Sterling said of the displaced Yarmouk residents he visited in 2015.

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    Syria conflict, Syria, Daesh, Syrian Arab Army, Syrian Army, Syria, Damascus
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