Syrian government forces clashed with rebels and hammered opposition-held areas of east Damascus on Monday after pushing back a surprise assault in the capital.
Rebels and allied radicals, 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.
He could not specify whether the raids were carried out by Syrian or allied Russian warplanes.
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 radicals on one side, and government forces on the other.
On Monday, government forces were locked in fighting with rebel groups in an industrial zone between Jobar and Qabun, a besieged, opposition-held district to the north.
“In their assault yesterday, rebels were able to open a road for several hours between Qabun and Jobar, but the area is now a front line and they can no longer cross between the two,” Abdel Rahman said.
Russia’s Ambassador to Syria Alexander Kinshchak said one of the Russian embassy’s buildings in Damascus had been damaged in clashes between government and opposition forces, Russian news agency RIA reported on Monday.
“We have a building that we haven’t been using temporarily, not far from the epicenter of yesterday’s clashes. I was told a shock wave knocked out the windows there,” Kinshchak was quoted as saying.
A Syrian military source said that the army had recaptured “most of the positions where rebels advanced yesterday (Sunday)”.
“The army foiled the armed groups’ plan to link the Jobar district with Qabun,” the source said, adding that “military operations in the area are ongoing.”
The rebel assault on Sunday marked their most important incursion inside the capital in several years.
After seizing several buildings in Jobar, opposition fighters advanced briefly into the neighbouring Abbasid Square area — the first time in two years the opposition had broken into that district.
Activity in Abbasid Square was returning to normal levels on Monday, correspondents said, as residents stood on nearby balconies surveying the damage from the latest clashes.
Inside the Abbasid Square bus station on Monday, which rebels managed to overrun for few hours the previous day, several soldiers could be seen curled up under a blanket, taking a mid-morning nap after hours of heavy fighting.
Planes could still be heard above the city but many of the roads that had been sealed off by army troops the previous day were reopened.