Syria rebels launch fresh assault on east Damascus
DAMASCUSRebels and jihadists launched a fresh assault on east Damascus on March 21, just two days before another round of U.N.-backed peace talks were set to get underway in Switzerland.
Clashes raged between regime forces on one side and opposition fighters and allied jihadists from the Fateh al-Sham Front, formerly al-Qaeda’s branch in the war-ravaged country.
The renewed fighting in Damascus came one day after Syrian government forces repelled the largest rebel incursion into the capital in years.
An AFP journalist in east Damascus reported a large explosion at sunrise on March 21 followed by fierce clashes, shelling and government air strikes on opposition positions.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the blast was likely caused by a rebel car bomb attack on a regime position between Jobar and Qabun districts.
Plumes of dark smoke could be seen rising from eastern neighborhoods.
The official SANA news agency said 12 people were wounded in rebel shelling.
“The Syrian army is facing attempts to advance by terrorist groups... north of Jobar and is surrounding them,” it reported.
Rebels hold half of the eastern neighborhood of Jobar, a few kilometers (miles) from the city center, and are seeking to link it to the besieged northern district of Qabun.
“Our windows and doors rattle with each bombardment,” Damascus resident Lamis, 28, told AFP.
“I’m frightened that these armed groups will advance further and I hope they will be stopped soon.”
Syria’s air force responded to the renewed rebel assault with raids on their positions while opposition fighters shelled the Abbasid and Tijara neighborhoods near Jobar, the Observatory’s Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Islamist Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group and the Fateh al-Sham Front - known as Al-Nusra Front before it renounced its ties to al-Qaeda-- have a presence in Jobar.
Faylaq al-Rahman announced “the second stage of the battle” for eastern areas of the capital, in a statement issued on March 21.
In the afternoon, Ahrar al-Sham - an allied Islamist faction - said its fighters had seized a textile factory between Qabun and Jobar.