Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Factions, Including Nusra, Surprise Regime in Heart of Damascus | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke billows following a reported air strike in the rebel-held parts of the Jobar district, on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, on March 19, 2017 .(AFP PHOTO / AMER ALMOHIBANY)

Beirut, Moscow- In a surprise assault in the heart of Damascus, opposition factions advanced on Sunday in the Qabun and Jobar districts, while Russian media reported a Russian-Iranian-Turkish meeting was held to discuss the withdrawal of pro-Iran militias from Syria.

In the Syrian capital, opposition factions moved to the position of “attacker” in a battle rocked by fierce clashes, which left a number of casualties and hostages in the ranks of regime forces and their allies.

Fear and terror prevailed in Damascus while regime forces were on high alert, deploying their tanks in several positions in the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the armed factions and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, including Fatah al-Sham Front (previously al-Nusra), “were able to infiltrate and advance into the nearby Abbasid garages,” a car and bus station located on the outskirts of central Damascus, near the Jobar district from the east.

Opposition fighters controlled large parts of the garages, which were heavily pounded by regime forces that tried to recuperate their lost positions, the Observatory said.

Meanwhile, Free Syrian Army official Osama Abu Zeid said the assault launched by Ghouta rebels was in the heart of Damascus and not on its outskirts, as mentioned by some media outlets.

However, head of the Observatory Rami Abdel Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Fierce clashes were ongoing. Some fighters were capable to infiltrate, but this move does not mean they have controlled the area.”

During the clashes in the heart of Damascus, regime warplanes pounded the Jobar area, while shelling by rebels hit several nearby districts in Damascus, including Bab Touma, Rukn al-Din and the Abbasiyin area, the monitor said.

Later, state media said the army successfully “blocked an attack by terrorists on military points and residential buildings in Jobar.”

Separately, Russia’s Izvestia newspaper quoted informed Russian diplomatic and military sources as saying that representatives from Moscow, Ankara and Tehran had discussed during the “Astana” talks the issue of the “Shi’ite groups” fighting alongside Syrian regime forces, mainly “Hezbollah.”

The representatives tackled the issue of withdrawing those militias from Syrian territories.

According to the sources, delegations from the three countries also discussed the possibility of specifying a “Hezbollah-controlled area” to include all members of the party, which will be withdrawn from other Syrian areas, mainly the north of the country.

“The issue of the Shi’ite militias will be tackled again during the next round of the Astana talks expected in May,” the newspaper wrote.