Eastern Qalamoun offensive (April 2018)
On 17 April 2018, rebel groups in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains pocket, led by Jaysh al-Islam, reached a surrender agreement with the Syrian Army and Russia. The agreement came after 2 weeks of negotiations that began with a Syrian Army ultimatum on 3 April. Around 1,500 rebels handed over heavy weapons and equipment to the Syrian Army, and were evacuated by 124 buses in 4 convoys to Turkish-held areas in the northern Aleppo Governorate along with their families, totaling around 5,000 people. On 25 April, the last batch of rebels and their families left the eastern Qalamoun pocket, and the region came under full Syrian government control.
Rebels in the town of al-Dumayr and the rest of the eastern Qalamoun pocket have been in a state of ceasefire with government forces throughout 2016, with both sides focusing on fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In mid-2017, however government forces launched an offensive against rebels in the Syrian Desert to the east of the pocket, following a previous rebel offensive against ISIL in the region.
In late March 2018, the Levant Liberation Army launched an attack on Syrian Army positions in the eastern Qalamoun Mountains. This came amidst the Syrian Army offensive in eastern Ghouta.
Rebel surrender and evacuation
On 3 April 2018, rebel groups in the eastern Qalamoun pocket formed a unified military command, which met with a Russian and Air Force Intelligence Directorate officer, the latter issued an ultimatum to the rebels, demanding that they either disarm and reconcile, or leave the eastern Qalamoun pocket entirely. The rebel committee refused to leave and demanded the release of prisoners. The Levant Liberation Army stated that it was not part of the unified military command, denied any coordination with it, and rejected negotiations with Russia. On 8 April, the rebel unified command again met with Russian and Syrian Army officers, and reached a preliminary agreement.
On 17 April, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency announced that Jaysh al-Islam and the Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo in Dumayr have surrendered, and began to hand over heavy and medium weapons to the government. 5,000 people, which included 1,500 rebel fighters and 3,000 civilians, prepared to leave. Clashes also continued in the nearby mountains. On 18 April, Shaher Juma, head of the rebel negotiations committee in Dumayr, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen.
On 19 April, the rebel unified command agreed to hand over weapons and surrender the entire eastern Qalamoun pocket, including the towns of Dumayr, Jayrud, and al-Naseriyah. Russian officers pledged to pardon people who evaded conscription in the towns. The first batch of 2,500 people, including 600 rebels, were then transported by 44 buses from Dumayr to Jarabulus. The second convoy of at least 30 buses departed in the early hours of 22 April, and included 1,200 Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham fighters and their families, who arrived in the Afrin District. The 3rd convoy arrived in the al-Bab area on 24 April, and the 4th and final batch of 60 buses arrived in northern Aleppo on 25 April. With this, the eastern Qalamoun Mountains came under full government control, and the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic was raised in Jayrud's main square. Along with the territory, the Syrian Arab army said that it also gained back several heavy weapons including a dozen of tanks. After further territorial sweeps on 17 May, pro-government media reported that eight more tanks were found.
- "Syria's rebels announce refusal to evacuate Eastern Qalamoun". The New Arab. 3 April 2018.
- "Jaish Tahrir al-Sham Denies affiliate to Qalamoun Unified Command & Rejects negotiations with Russia". Syria Call. 15 April 2018.
- "The Eastern Qalamoun witnesses preparations for a new displaced people convoy in conjunction with the arrival of the 3rd convoy in the north-eastern countryside of Aleppo". Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 24 April 2018.
- "The assassination of the Chairman of the Commission for Negotiating the City of conscience". Enab Baladi. 18 April 2018.
- "The convoy of the Eastern Qalamoun reaches its destination after being attacked by loyalists to the regime at one of the checkpoints which injured a number of displaced people". Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 22 April 2018.
- "Evacuations around Damascus continue as thousands depart encircled city of Dumayr". Syria Direct. 19 April 2018. Archived from the original on 27 April 2018. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
- "Russia, Assad give ultimatum to Syria rebels northeast of Damascus". Reuters. 3 April 2018.
- "Syrian army enters eastern Qalamoun after full evacuation of rebels". Xinhua News Agency. 25 April 2018.
- "Jaish Tahrir al-Sham kills 10 troops in eastern Qalamoun". Zaman al-Wasl. 28 March 2018.
- "Rebels of al-Dumayr refuse evacuation, demand release of detainees". Zaman al-Wasl. 3 April 2018.
- "Unified Command of Eastern Qalamoun illustrates the results of the 1st. meeting held with Russians". Syria Call. 8 April 2018.
- "Rebels give up all eastern Qalamoun region: spokesman". Zaman al-Wasl. 20 April 2018.
- "More than 30 buses in the second convoy of the Eastern Qalamoun displaced people continue their way to the Syrian north". Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 22 April 2018.
- "The last convoy from the Eastern Qalamoun arrives in the north-east of Aleppo carrying hundreds of fighters, their families and citizens who refuse the agreement with the Russians and the regime". Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 25 April 2018.
- "Syria regime retakes new region near Damascus: SANA". Agence France-Presse. 25 April 2018.
- Pictures: Syrian Army’s Tiger Forces capture platoon of tanks, loads of pickups from fleeing militants in east Qalamoun
- VIDEO: Syrian Army discovers hidden weapons caches, tanks in East Qalamoun