Islamic State’s strongest advance yet toward Syria’s capital was halted when rival armed groups drove them out of enclaves they seized in a nearby Palestinian refugee camp.
Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis and allied Islamist groups pushed the militants to the southern edge of Yarmouk camp on Thursday, said Anwar Raja, spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command, which backs President Bashar al-Assad.
“They’re still present in some neighborhoods,” Raja said by telephone from Damascus. “They have sleeper cells there so we expect them to try to come back.”
Islamic State militants infiltrated the camp, which is home to 18,000 people, on Wednesday, coming within 6 kilometers (4 miles) of central Damascus in their bid to expand their caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Their brutal tactics, including beheading, have alienated other Islamist groups also battling the Assad government, and some have joined forces to repel the extremists.
Three people in the camp died in the fighting at Yarmouk, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that documents the conflict in Syria through activists.
The setback for Islamic State came a day after al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and other Islamist groups battling Assad government forces took over the last border post between Jordan and Syria. State-run Syrian TV said Thursday that government forces in the area were being reinforced and redeployed. Government helicopters dropped barrel bombs on areas controlled by the militants, according to SOHR.
Jordan closed the border post, citing security concerns.