Clashes In Syria's Damascus After Surprise Rebel Attack

Heavy clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on Sunday as rebels and jihadists tried to fight their way into the city centre in a surprise assault on government forces.

The rebel fighters began the attack from the district of Jobar in northeastern Damascus, an area split between rebel and government control.

Syrian state media reported that Syrian forces had repelled an attack by jiahdist fighters, who also used tunnels to attack government positions.

It was a surprising breach of Damascus's security perimeter, where the government has effectively walled itself off from opposition forces encamped in two enclaves in the eastern parts of the city.

"This is to relieve the pressure on rebels, with the regime not stopping its bombardment and artillery shelling on our people", Abu Abdo, a commander from rebel group Failaq al Rahman said via internet messaging, adding that the aim was to link up Jobar with Qaboun.

"The timing of these military operations is crucial for the rebels", reporter Seyda said.

Insurgent groups attacked government positions in the area, including with two auto bombs, in an attempt to storm their defence lines, the Britain-based Observatory said. The evacuations are expected to continue for weeks, until the government will be able to claim control over the entire city for the first time since demonstrations broke out against President Bashar Assad in 2011. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013. AFP correspondents said soldiers had sealed off routes into the square.

But the state-run SANA news agency downplayed the recent events in Damascus "Army units thwarted the attack by the terrorists and isolated them in the area".

Several schools announced they would close through Monday, and many civilians cowered inside in fear of stray bullets and shelling.

"These are not intermittent clashes - these are ongoing attempts to advance", he said.

In recent months, the regime has sought to secure territory around the capital with renewed offensives on besieged rebel towns along with local "reconciliation" deals.

An attack last week targeted Shia pilgrims travelling by bus.

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.

On Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria's air defence systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes.

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".

  • Zachary Reyes