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Damascus roadblocks removed after Syria army victories

Syrian government is removing checkpoints and roadblocks from areas in and around Damascus, easing movement and traffic.

For the first time since the outbreak of the war in 2011, the Syrian government has removed several checkpoints and roadblocks that restricted the lives of its residents for the past seven years.

In the last few weeks, the Syrian government started a campaign with the help of the Russian forces to remove tens of roadblocks and checkpoints belonging to pro-government armed groups in and around greater Damascus areas, Syrian activists said.

The Syrian government's decision to open up Damascus to free movement and traffic comes on the heels of a string of military victories and agreements that cleared the capital and its countryside from opposition forces.

Those developments gave the government, for the first time, a contiguous control over the capital and its countryside region. 

Last May, Syrian state TV announced that its forces pushed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters out al-Hajar al-Aswad district south of Damascus.

After fierce fighting last April, the Syrian army regained control of Eastern Ghouta, near the capital, which had been held by opposition fighters since 2012. 

Thousands of people have been killed in the battles for Damascus' suburbs, where both the Syrian army and the rebels have been accused of using chemical weapons, a claim both sides deny

Many surviving rebel fighters and their families have fled or were bused to Idlib province, under Russian and UN-brokered evacuation agreements.

Damascus countryside Governor Ala Ibrahim announced last month that about 90 percent of roadblocks around Damascus have been removed.

READ MORE: Syria's civil war explained from the beginning

While some roadblocks at the southeastern entrances of Damascus, and in the Fahama and Malki streets remained intact, others in the Khaled Bin Al Walid, Mujtahd and Medhat Pasha were lifted.

Activist Murad* said that the majority of the removed roadblocks belonged to the government's military intelligence, state security and air force intelligence.

Some of the pro-government militias that exerted control over several neighbourhoods were dismayed by the removal of their checkpoints because of their financial interest in keeping them intact, according to local residents.

Russian restructuring

Activist Mardini also said that Russian troops have been trying to bring order to the Damascus region by dissolving pro-government militias, incorporate its members into the Syrian government military units, and remove weapons from the hands of local groups.

READ MORE: Syria war: Assad denies claims about Russia dictating his army

In addition, the Syrian military has stopped issuing military ID cards to volunteer and militia units that previously fought alongside it, ordering them to join the army instead.

Local residents expressed relief over the removal of weapons and checkpoints from their neighbourhoods, according to Mardini.

Since the start of Syria's war, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, over a million wounded, and over 12 million - half the country's prewar population - have been displaced.

* The name of the activist has been changed to protect the individual's identity

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