Clashes in Damascus as insurgents infiltrate government areas

Andrew Cummings
March 20, 2017

Heavy clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on Sunday after rebel fighters launched a surprise assault on government forces, a monitor and state television said.

The opposition holds only a few areas of Damascus. There was no immediate information on casualties. Government forces have shown strong resistance so far pushing back the coordinated assault, which began with suicide attacks and vehicle bombs.

The Civil Defense search-and-rescue group said three children and a woman were killed in an airstrike on the village of Khan Sheikhoun, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported another five people were killed in the provincial capital, also called Idlib. Rebels "are trying to seize al-Adawi highway that connects eastern Damascus to the downtown area", Ayman Midani, a local media activist in Damascus, told VOA.

Others say that rebels attempt to make some military inroads before the upcoming round of United Nations -sponsored peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Geneva.

The military responded to the attack with air strikes.

"After a major advance by opposition fighters, the regime got over its shock and began a counter-offensive", he said. State media said the army successfully "blocked an attack by terrorists on military points and residential buildings in Jobar", an area close to the city centre. "The sounds of mortars from Jobar have not stopped", said a resident of the nearby Tijara district, who asked not to be named.

Steady shelling and sniper fire could be heard across Damascus on Sunday as rebel factions allied with former Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham launched an attack on government positions in the city's east.

Schools announced they would be closed Monday for fear the shelling would continue.

SOHR chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the rebels were seeking to "link their territory in Jobar with Qabun to break the government siege there".

The insurgents detonated two suicide auto bombs in Jobar district before trying to storm government defence lines, observers said.

More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's conflict erupted six years ago with protests against Assad's rule.

Tens of thousands of fighters, dissidents, and their family members in long-besieged areas have accepted exile to the country's rebel-held northwest, in what opposition figures have termed "forced displacement".

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