Islamic State nears city center of Damascus

Don't look now, but Islamic State forces are advancing toward the vital center of the city of Damascus, while elsewhere in Syria, they and the rebels are driving back government forces.

Progress for ISIS is measured in blocks captured – the fighting is that intense.  And one would expect the fighting to only get worse the closer they get to government strongholds.


Isil militants fought street battles against Islamist rebels in Asali, part of the capital's southern Qadam district, after seizing two streets there over the weekend, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"This is the closest Isil has ever been to the heart of Damascus," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

He said Isil had advanced from the adjacent Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighbourhood, where they have been based since July 2014.

A Syrian military official confirmed the clashes and said he was "very happy that they are fighting".

"But we are ready to react if they try to advance into government-held territory," the official told AFP.

According to the Observatory, opposition-held Qadam has been relatively quiet since a truce between rebel groups and regime forces there a year ago.

It said fighting in the district on Sunday left 15 fighters dead, but it could not specify how many were from Isil and how many were Islamist rebels.

Mr Rahman said the "fierce street battles" had forced civilians to flee the area.

Since its expulsion from the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus last year, Isil has used Al-Hajar Al-Aswad as a base for attacks on the capital.

From there, it tried to seize the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in April, but was pushed back.

That same month, Isil kidnapped two opposition fighters from Qadam and beheaded them in Al-Hajar Al-Aswad.

More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began with popular anti-government protests in March 2011 but has evolved into a complex civil war.

The conflict has seen the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad lose swathes of territory across the country.

Is Assad ready for peace?  The key to any peace between Assad and the rebels is Russia, who is keeping the Syrian army from collapse.  But there are so many players opposing Assad – ISIS, al-Qaeda, other smaller jihadist groups, the Free Syrian Army, and America's very own miniscule number of "secular" fighters – that uniting in order to sit down at a peace table appears to be a distant prospect. 

With 250,000 dead and 11 million refugees, Syria is finished as a player in the Middle East for at least a generation.  Russia should realize this and cut its losses by reducing aid to the Syrian army, forcing Assad to the negotiating table with all forces except the Islamic State, or perhaps sending him into exile.  This would allow all forces to unite against ISIS, which is probably the only way they will be defeated.

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