Assad regime responded to the surprise attack by rebels on Syria’s capital of Damascus by intensive airstrikes forcing them to retreat largely. However, they said this offensive won’t be the last, and they are preparing other wide assaults soon.
A surprise attack by rebel alliance on March 19. on the Assad regime position in Syria’s capital of Damascus led to heavy clashes and rocket shelling, which were described as the most fierce in years.
The escalation, reported by witnesses, state TV, rebel sources, and a monitoring group, marked a bid by the rebels to relieve army pressure on besieged areas they control to the east of the capital.
Moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and jihadist groups were both involved in the assault on the districts of Jobar and Abbasid Square area, some 2 km (1.2 miles) east of the Old City walls.
The attack began early on Sunday “with two car bombs and several suicide attackers” on the Jobar district, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
Rebels then advanced into the nearby Abbasid Square area, seizing several buildings and firing a barrage of rockets into multiple Damascus neighbourhoods, Abdel Rahman said.
Control of Jobar – which has been a battleground district for more than two years – is one of the goals of the attack. It is divided between rebels and allied hardline fighters on one side, and government forces on the other. It is one of three pockets in the Syrian capital still in opposition hands.
In addition, relieving the pressure on other rebel-held areas, where the regime have been pushing hard to take over, is a direct motive of this new attack.
Though the attack was largely repelled by Assad regime and its allied forces, the rebels proved that they are still able to conduct attacks even after the high losses they suffered after the Russian intervention.
In addition, they said that this attack won’t be the last and they are preparing for new wide offensive soon.
Regime forces fight back, rebels retreat
A regime’s military source and a war monitor said the army had recaptured all the positions it had lost, but rebels said they were still holding on to some of their gains despite heavy aerial bombing that had forced them to retreat.
Syrian state television said the regime’s army “had repelled infiltration attempts by the militants and bombarded them with artillery, inflicting heavy losses.”
The regime advance involved heavy fighting and intense air strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military media unit run by the army’s ally Hezbollah said.
The Observatory said heavy fighting continued and that the army had unleashed more than 500 air raids and artillery strikes. The Hezbollah-run military media unit said that air raids were aimed at rebel supply lines.
“There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of Observatory said.
“The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday’s assault,” he added.
The intensity of the Syrian army’s counterattack forced the rebels to retreat on Sunday night from at least 60 percent of the areas they captured that day in an industrial area that separated Qaboun from Jobar, a rebel spokesman said.
“Today the clashes are difficult and there is no progress in the face of this ferocious bombardment that is not just limited to the frontline but all night the regime was shelling the cities and towns in Eastern Ghouta in retaliation,” Wael Alwan, the spokesman for Failaq al-Rahman, told Reuters.
phase II of offensive is under way
Al-Rahman Brigade, the main assaulting opposition group, published a statement referring to their future plans, which said:
“After the multiple attempts by Assad, Russian and Iranian forces to dismember the neighborhoods of eastern Damascus and eastern Ghouta, whose residents were displaced, and after receiving secret disclosures that regime forces and their allies were preparing themselves to launch a major offensive on civilians in al-Qaboon and Tishreen neighborhoods in Damascus, al-Rahman Brigade’s members in collaborating with other fighting opposition groups launched on Sunday a major sudden offensive on the Assad regime’s locations and succeeded in achieving the following:
1- Completely destroying Assad military operation room.
2- Destroying two tanks, a BMP vehicle and two guns of type 57 mm.
3- Seizing large numbers of light and medium weapons with large amounts of ammunition.
4- Killing more than 75 members of regime forces, including three Assad officers and injuring hundreds of their allies.
5- Advancing towards the block of buildings which overlooks the Panorama complex and cutting the International way which leads to Damascus.
6- Casting terror and disorder in hearts of Assad regime forces, who imposed curfew in the neighborhoods of Damascus.
After the offensive, Assad regime forces reacted by madly bombing on residential areas in Douma, Saqba, Hazza and other neighbouring areas, where tens of civilians were killed or injured.
On this occasion, we the opposition fighters tell the doomed-to-fall Assad regime that we are marching forth to achieve our victory. We also vow to continue many phases of this operation to shake the land under Assad regime forces.”
— Ahrar Al-Sham inter (@ahrar_alsham_en) March 20, 2017
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.