Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nears complete control of Damascus, capturing last rebel suburbs

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is on the verge of regaining complete control of Damascus after capturing the last rebel-held suburbs. More than 2,000 rebels and their families were evacuated from the district of Qaboun on Sunday (14 May). The area, on the northeastern edge of the capital, has been largely reduced to rubble after a relentless bombing campaign by Assad's forces, supported by Russian air power.

15 May 2017: Civilians and rebels who were evacuated from the Qaboun district in northeast Damascus arrive at a temporary camp in Idlib provinceOmar haj Kadour/AFP
13 May 2017: A member of the Syrian government forces stands on the rubble of destroyed buildings as troops advance through Qaboun district, on the outskirts of DamascusAFP

Most of the residents of the once-bustling area, which had sheltered thousands of displaced people from other parts of Syria, had fled in the last two months as the bombing escalated.

The departures from Qaboun come days after opposition fighters were evacuated from the nearby neighbourhoods of Barzeh and Tishrin, meaning the capital is now clear of rebels for the first time since 2012, apart from a few isolated pockets of resistance. The eastern neighbourhood of Jobar is still in rebel hands but is considered an extension of the separate region of Eastern Ghouta.

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Army advances were made possible after tunnels between Qaboun and Barzeh were cut and the army isolated the areas from the rest of the main rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta. This is now the only major rebel bastion near Damascus, and the fall of Qaboun and Barzeh have removed a main line of defence that protected it.

14 May 2017: Syrian government forces inspect a destroyed tunnel in Damascus' north eastern Qaboun suburbAFP

Assad has promoted the use of evacuation deals, along with what his government calls "reconciliation" accords, for rebel-held areas that surrender to the government as a way of reducing bloodshed. But the United Nations has criticised both the use of siege tactics which precede such deals and the evacuations themselves as amounting to forcible displacement.

IBTimes UK looks back at some of the most powerful photos of Assad's campaign to crush the rebel insurgency in and around Damascus through sheer firepower, with air strikes, surface to surface missiles and reported chemical attacks.

24 January 2013: A rebel fighter stands in front of buildings destroyed by Syrian Army air strikes in the Arabeen neighbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
25 January 2013: An unexploded mortar shell fired by the Syrian Army is seen in the Mleha suburb of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
27 January 2013: A man walks in front of a burning building after a Syrian Air force air strike in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
30 January 2013: Rebel fighters fighters run for cover as a tank shell explodes on a wall during heavy fighting in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
3 February 2013: A rebel fighter fires a rifle through a hole in a wall at a Syrian Army base during heavy fighting in the Arabeen neighbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
3 February 2013: A rebel fighter uses a mannequin's head on a pole to help locate a sniper at a Syrian Army base during heavy fighting in the Arabeen neighbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
9 February 2013: A rebel use a shotgun to fire an improvised grenade at Syrian Army soldiers in the Arabeen neigbourhood of DamascusGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
21 August 2013: Bodies of people activists say were killed by nerve gas are seen in Douma, a rebel-held district in the Ghouta region, east of DamascusBassam Khabieh/Reuters
28 September 2014: Syrian Army soldiers inspect a tunnel used by rebel fighters, after government forces took control of Adra al-Balad on the outskirts of DamascusAFP
7 October 2014: A picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is displayed on a damaged structure at the entrance to the Dukhaneya neighbourhood near Damascus, after soldiers loyal to Assad regained control of the area from rebel fightersOmar Sanadiki/Reuters
19 October 2016: Syrian girls attend a class in one of the underground rooms of the Al-Hayat school in Qaboun. The school was hit by government forces air strikes in 2014 resulting in the death of over a dozen students, so the school moved to an underground location for security reasonsSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
21 January 2015: Residents carry an injured man after what activists said were two air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hamouria, eastern Ghouta, near DamascusBassam Khabieh/Reuters
2 February 2015: A man gives medical assistance to an injured man after an air strike by Assad's forces in the Douma neighbourhood near DamascusMohammed Badra/Reuters
2 February 2015: A wounded boy sits at a field hospital after what activists said was an air strike by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Douma, on the outskirts of DamascusMohammed Badra/Reuters
6 February 2015: Blood covers the hands of an injured boy lying in a field hospital after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in DoumaMohammed Badra/Reuters
2 February 2017: Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the White Helmets, search for survivors amid the rubble of a building following a reported air strike on the rebel-held suburb of Qaboun surburbMsallam Abdalbaset/AFP
25 February 2017: A carries a wounded child following a government air strike on the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of DamascusSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
3 March 2017: A man tends to his plants on the rooftop of his damaged building in the rebel-held town of Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital DamascusAmer Almohibany/AFP
6 March 2017: Smoke billows following reported air strikes by Syrian regime forces in the rebel-held suburb of QabounMohammed Eyad/AFP
14 March 2017: A four-month-old baby receives treatment at a makeshift hospital following reported air strikes in the rebel-held district of Barzeh, on the north-eastern outskirts of DamascusSaria Abu Zaid/AFP
19 March 2017: An opposition fighter fires a heavy machine gun in Jobar, a rebel-held district on the eastern outskirts of DamascusAmer Almohibany/AFP
23 March 2017: Umm Mohammed and her husband drink coffee in their destroyed home in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of DamascusSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
4 April 2017: A man and child flee following a reported government air strike on the rebel-controlled town of Hamouria, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of DamascusAbdulmonam Eassa/AFP
7 April 2017: A car is driven past heavily damaged buildings in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of DamascusSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
1 May 2017: A man inspects a hospital that was damaged during an air strike on a rebel-controlled town in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of DamascusSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
2 May 2017: Schoolchildren learn how to protect themselves in case of an air strike as part of a campaign conducted by the White Helmets in the rebel-held area of Harasta, on the northeastern outskirts of DamascusSameer Al-Doumy/AFP
6 May 2017: A Syrian government forces' MiG-23 fighter plane drops a payload during an air strike on the rebel-held area of QabounAmer Almohibany/AFP
13 May 2017: A member of the Syrian government forces flashes the V-for-victory sign from an armoured vehicle advancing through the Qaboun district of DamascusAFP

The government has made major gains across Syria since September 2015, when Russia joined the war and provided Assad's troops with air cover. Assad's forces captured all rebel-held parts of the city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, in December 2016. The city of Homs should be under Assad's control within weeks, after thousands of opposition fighters were evacuated from al-Waer, the last rebel-held area.

Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with anti-Assad protests and turned into a war that has killed some 400,000 people and displaced half the country's population, sending about five million refugees mostly to neighbouring countries.

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