Syrian regime forces were scrambling to defend frontlines near the heart of Damascus yesterday, after a surprise offensive by opposition groups using tunnels.
Shelling and sniper fire echoed across the Syrian capital as rebels and jihadists attacked regime positions in the Jobar neighbourhood, about 2km north-east of the Old City walls.
Control of Jobar has been split between regime forces and opposition fighters for more than two years, making it one of few areas in Damascus not under firm regime control. The surprise attack enabled the rebels to connect two of the capital's last opposition-controlled areas.
The attack began in the morning, when jihadists launched a barrage of car bombs and suicide attacks.
Syrian state media said terrorists had infiltrated the city through tunnels in the middle of the night.
Opposition fighters seized part of a large bus station and fired rockets into multiple neighbourhoods, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
The move appeared to be aimed at connecting rebel-held territory in Jobar to the Qaboun neighbourhood. By linking the two pockets of opposition control, rebels seek to break the siege of Qaboun and cement their hold on an area uncomfortably close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's centre of power.
Syrian state media said the military had repelled an attack by an al-Qa'ida-linked group.
The government has been trying to pressure the rebels to surrender the pockets they hold in Damascus following victories in the northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Homs.