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Gunmen lay waste to Syrian town used for Damascus offensive

December 21, 2016, 11:34 UTC+3 DAMASCUS

There are piles of rubble and garbage strewn along Darayya streets that once had a well-developed industry

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DAMASCUS, December 21. /TASS/. Militants have levelled buildings and religious facilities in Darayya from where they had shelled the Syrian capital for five years. Now the city has been fully liberated by the government’s forces, and Russian journalists were allowed to visit the area for the first time.

Key position for Damascus offensive

Darayya is located in southwestern Syria, a few kilometers from Damascus. In 2011, its population was about 100,000 people, but now it’s practically a ghost town. A guarded round-the-clock checkpoint has been set up at the entrance. Right behind it, there is a scrap-heap of buses and armored vehicles pockmarked with bullets and rows of blown up vehicles.

There are piles of rubble and garbage strewn along the city’s streets that once had a well-developed industry. The illegal armed groups have left behind hundreds of IEDs and booby-traps. Work is underway to demine single-family homes and other buildings.

"This city used to be a key position for the offensive against Damascus because of its geographical location. The foreign-backed militants have turned it into a terrorist enclave using all available weapons. The government and the army sought reconciliation from the very beginning. However, the militants rejected any political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis," said General Omran Haysan, chief of the Syrian Higher National Committee’s operations group.

Mosques and churches destroyed

The city was reliably fortified by militants. They dug tunnels, set up fixed positions, and amassed defensive strongholds in advantageous positions. There was the Church of St. Paul in the heart of the city. "The gunmen used it for their own purposes, making a tunnel for storing arms, medical supplies and food nearby. They looted the relics," a Syrian army Colonel named Hasan said. The terrorists organized a farmyard near the church, using the icons torn from the walls as a fence.

The gunmen who called themselves Muslims also destroyed a mosque located some 30 meters from the church. There are huge holes in its dome from direct mortar bomb hits.

About 3,000 militants lay down arms

Liberating the city took nearly 9 months, the military was assisted by civilians, according to Syrian army general, Yasser Basu. He noted that the terrorists have now fled to the Idlib province and are unable to break through Syrian army defense lines in the area.

"About 3,000 militants and their families have returned to civilian life after laying down arms. They have been granted amnesty under a pertinent presidential law. Some 4,000 others have left the area to take part in fighting, most of them are foreigners," General Omran Haysan added.

The city lacks electricity and water supplies, and its roads are covered with building fragments and debris. Destitute civilians live in local centers for internally displaced individuals. That said, the city is under the control of the Syrian army’s 4th tank division.

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