İstanbul, Mar 21 (DHA) – Syria’s army staged a counterattack in northeastern Damascus on Monday, one day after rebels in the city staged a surprise attack, but there were conflicting accounts of how much ground the government regained after the rebel assault.
The army’s 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, a British-based war monitor that collects information from a network of sources across Syria, 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.
The clashes killed at least 26 members of regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadists, the observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. He did not have an immediate toll for the March 20 morning’s air strikes.
Rebels had attacked in Jobar to relieve military pressure after their loss of ground in nearby Qaboun and Barza, a commander from the Failaq al-Rahman group, which is the former al-Qaeda affiliate and is currently fighting there, said on Sunday.
The intensity of the Syrian army’s counterattack forced the rebels to retreat on the night of Sunday 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.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his army, along with allied Russian, Iranian and Shiite militia forces, have put rebels on the back foot with a steady succession of military victories over the past 18 months, including around Damascus.
For rebels, however, their first such large scale foray in over four years inside the capital signaled they were still able to wage offensive actions despite their string of defeats.
Rebels still hold a large, heavily populated enclave in the Eastern Ghouta district of farms and towns to the east of the capital, as well as some Damascus districts in the south, east and northeast of the city.
The most recent fighting has focused on the areas around Qaboun and Barza, which the army has isolated from the rest of the main rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta and the eastern districts of Damascus.
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