2 min read  | Damascus, Interviews, Politics

Jaish al-Islam: Islamic State looking to expand beyond south Damascus stronghold

March 15, 2016

Jaish al-Islam fighters in opposition-held south Damascus discovered and detonated a 50-meter-long tunnel leading from the Islamic State’s south Damascus stronghold of al-Hajjar al-Aswad into an adjoining rebel-held neighborhood in Yalda over the weekend.

This wasn’t the first tunnel,” JAI General Staff spokesman Hamzah Beriqdar tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani, adding that the Islamic State is seeking to expand out of al-Hajjar al-Aswad any way it can.

IS does not actually have the ability to fight on the ground, so it uses tunnels” in south Damascus, says Beriqdar, citing a lack of “military strategy.”

Q: How was the tunnel discovered? Is it the first one?

This wasn’t the first tunnel. Jaish al-Islam’s reconnaissance and monitoring unit in south Damascus have played a large role in discovering the tunnels. The Islamic State wanted to use them to breach the defensive lines where the mujahideen are stationed (adjacent to IS positions) in al-Hajjar al-Aswad.

The Islamic State wants to take control of positions and buildings in the area and commit its crimes, but its attempts have been unsuccessful.

Q: Why do you believe IS does not have the ability to fight on the ground in south Damascus?

IS doesn’t have a military strategy like JAI does in battle. In terms of numbers, weapons and planning, IS is not an organized army.

Q: In your view, why has IS resorted to digging tunnels?

IS does not actually have the ability to fight on the ground, so it uses tunnels. It wants to retake the al-Zain neighborhood [of Yalda] facing al-Hajar al-Aswad, which it lost control of recently in a special operation by the mujahideen.

[Ed.: Opposition fighters took control of al-Zain from IS in April 2015. Since then, IS fighters have made multiple attempts to retake the neighborhood and have clashed with opposition forces in Yalda.]

Q: Reports indicate that a group of IS fighters would withdraw from their positions in south Damascus. Will they?

This matter was agreed-upon between the Islamic State and the regime, working through intermediaries, but the evacuation has not occurred.

[Ed.: For Syria Direct’s previous coverage of the south Damascus agreement, see here and here.] 

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