'Intense' strikes pound rebel-held Damascus | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 21, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:40 AM, March 21, 2017


'Intense' strikes pound rebel-held Damascus

Regime forces repel rebel assault; Russian embassy hit

Syrian government forces clashed with rebels and hammered opposition-held areas of east Damascus yesterday after pushing back a surprise assault in the capital.

Rebels and allied jihadists, led by former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, launched an attack early Sunday on government positions in east Damascus, initially scoring gains.

But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad drove them back by nightfall and began a fierce bombing campaign on Monday morning, a monitor said.

"There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

He could not specify whether the raids were carried out by Syrian or allied Russian warplanes.

Control of the district -- which has been a battleground for more than two years and is the closest rebel position to the heart of Damascus -- is divided between rebels and allied jihadists on one side, and government forces on the other.

On Monday, regime forces were locked in fighting with rebel groups in an industrial zone between Jobar and Qabun, a besieged, opposition-held district to the north.

The clashes killed at least 26 members of regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadists, Abdel Rahman said. He did not have an immediate toll for Monday morning's air strikes.

State news agency SANA said Syrian government troops were targeting rebel bases around Jobar on Monday.

The agency reported that opposition fighters on Sunday bombarded the Russian embassy compound in the capital's Mazraa neighbourhood but that there were no casualties.

Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule but has evolved over the years into a complex civil war.

More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more have been displaced by the conflict.

Meanwhile, a senior army officer yesterday said that Israel had fired its Arrow missile at a Syrian rocket which posed a "ballistic threat" during clashes over the weekend.

Israeli warplanes struck several targets in Syria on Friday, drawing retaliatory missile fire, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the start of the Syrian war six years ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the air strikes targeted weapons bound for Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah, and that Israel would do the same again if necessary.

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