Tuesday 23 May 2017

Syrian troops counter-attack after rebel incursion in Damascus

Damaged streets after clashes erupted between Syrian government forces and rebels in Damascus (Sana/AP)
Damaged streets after clashes erupted between Syrian government forces and rebels in Damascus (Sana/AP)

Syrian government forces have launched a counter-attack against rebels in Damascus after a suicide car bombing and another insurgent assault in the country's capital, media reports said.

It was the second attempt by rebels in three days to penetrate the city's defences.

Rebels have been trying for years to break into the heart of Damascus, at times in conjunction with al Qaida-linked militants.

Al Qaida-affiliated suicide bombers have been targeting government security installations since the early days of the conflict.

Early on Tuesday, rebels detonated a car bomb in an eastern neighbourhood of Damascus and launched a renewed attack from the city's opposition-held Jobar area, according to the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group.

There were no immediate reports on casualty numbers in those attacks.

Hezbollah is heavily invested in defending President Bashar Assad in his country's civil war. Its military media arm said fighting was under way in Jobar, which Syrian government forces had held under siege since 2013.

Syrian state media later said the military responded with air strikes and artillery fire and that government forces repelled the attack.

Blasts and artillery fire shook Damascus and smoke clouded the skies over the Jobar and Qaboun neighbourhoods, where fighting also broke out on Sunday.

Syria's Sana news agency said government forces had encircled the "terrorist groups". It said 15 people were wounded in shelling across the capital.

A rebel blitz spearheaded by Syria's al Qaida branch shook eastern parts of Damascus on Sunday, with fighters seizing a neighbourhood before pro-government forces pushed them back on Monday.

It was the most serious insurgent incursion into the city since 2012.

The insurgent gains, though short-lived, come after months of steady rebel losses to government forces across Syria. It appeared to be an attempt by al Qaida's affiliate to mount sophisticated attacks against high-value targets to portray itself as the main force capable of fighting the government.

AP

Press Association

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