Strikes pound Damascus after rebel assault
DAMASCUS, Mar 20 : Heavy air strikes hammered opposition-held neighbourhoods of Syria's capital on Monday after regime forces pushed back a surprise assault that saw rebels try to fight their way into the city centre.
Rebels and allied jihadists, led by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, launched an attack early Sunday on government positions in east Damascus, initially scoring gains.
But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad drove them back by nightfall and began a fierce bombing campaign on Monday morning, a monitor said.
"There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday's assault," he added.
Abdel Rahman said it was unclear whether regime forces or their Russian allies were carrying out Monday's raids on Jobar.
Control of the district -- which has been a battleground for more than two years and is the closest rebel position to the heart of Damascus -- is divided between rebels and allied jihadists on one side, and government forces on the other. Media activists in Jobar said at least 40 raids had targeted the neighbourhood since dawn, releasing footage of a cloud of black smoke enveloping heavily damaged buildings.
On Sunday, opposition fighters seized several buildings in Jobar before advancing into the neighbouring Abbasid Square area -- the first time in two years the opposition had broken into that district.
The clashes killed at least 26 members of regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadists, Abdel Rahman said. He did not have an immediate toll for Monday morning's air strikes.
Sniper fire and air strikes were heard across the city on Sunday as civilians cowered inside their homes and schools announced they would close because of the violence. —AFP