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Assad's forces beat back Syrian rebels after surprise attack on Damascus

by David Gilbert
Mar 20 2017, 8:38am

Intense fighting in the Syrian capital of Damascus resumed Monday when government warplanes bombed opposition-held areas in the hope of regaining ground lost during a surprise attack by rebels overnight Sunday.

After some 18 months of the rebels losing ground to government forces, the unexpected attack in Damascus on Sunday saw them make significant gains. But any victory was short-lived, with government forces — backed by Russian, Iranian, and Shi’ite militia troops — announcing Monday that they had “regained control of all the points that terrorists” had claimed.

“There have been intense airstrikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said. “The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday’s assault.”

The death toll from the fighting on Sunday reached almost 50, according to the group, with at least 26 regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadis reported dead in clashes.

The rebel offensive was launched in the Jobar district of eastern Damascus, and was led by Islamist groups including Ahrar al-Sham and the recently formed umbrella jihadi group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The attackers utilized numerous guerilla warfare techniques, including car bombs, suicide attacks and the use of secret tunnels. The Jobar district is split between rebel and government control and has been the scene of conflict for at least two years.

The clashes on Sunday were the most intense in the capital for years, and saw rebels fire artillery shells and rockets towards the center of the city – with government forces using tanks to push them back.

The latest attacks come just days after a suicide bomber killed 31 people at the main court complex in the city. Hours later, another suicide bombing at a restaurant injured more than 20 people.

The surprise gains by rebels in Damascus on Sunday came after 18 months of steady losses to government forces across Syria, including in Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus itself. The attacks came as Syria marked six years since the start of the civil war, which has claimed the lives of 320,000 people. Almost 5 million people have been forced to flee the country.

government forces