BEIRUT: Syrian warplanes hammered opposition-held neighbourhoods of Damascus today after regime forces pushed back a surprise assault that saw rebels try to fight their way into the city centre.
Rebels and allied jihadists, led by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, launched an attack early yesterday on government positions in east Damascus, initially scoring key gains.
But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad drove them back by nightfall and began a fierce bombing campaign this morning.
“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.
“The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday’s assault,” he added. Abdel Rahman said it was unclear whether regime forces or their Russian allies were carrying out Monday’s raids on Jobar.
Control of Jobar – which has been a battleground for more than two years – is divided between rebels and allied jihadists on one side, and government forces on the other.
Yesterday, opposition fighters seized several buildings in Jobar before advancing into the neighbouring Abbasid Square area – the first time in two years that the opposition had advanced so close to the capital’s centre.
The clashes left dead at least 26 regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadists, Abdel Rahman said, but he did not have an immediate toll for Monday morning’s air strikes.
Sniper fire and air strikes were heard across the city on Sunday as civilians cowered inside their homes and schools announced they would close because of the violence.
But by today, the front line had been pushed back, and AFP correspondents said activity in the typically bustling Abbasid Square was returning to normal levels.
Airplanes could still be heard circling above but many of the roads that had been sealed off by army troops the previous day were reopened.