Clashes in Syria's Damascus after surprise rebel attack

Syria war and Damascus fighting

Since early Sunday, elements of the so-called Levant Liberation Board, a coalition led by former al-Nusrah, have attacked military points with vehicle bombs and launched mortar shells at various areas of the Syrian capital.

Clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on March 19 after rebels and jihadists launched a surprise assault on government forces there, a monitor and state television said, France24 reported.

The fighting comes only days before another round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva aimed at finding a political solution to Syria's six-year civil war.

"There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched", the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom -based war monitor, said.

Sunday's attack is not the first on the areas in eastern Damascus, as the rebels tried before to infiltrate, but all of their attempts were rendered flat. He did not have a toll for Monday's air strikes.

"Opening the Jobar front had a major effect in reducing the pressure on us and other fronts in Ghouta that have not calmed down in more than a year, and has contributed to scattering the Assad gangs", said Islam Army military spokesman Hamza Beirakdar, in a Twitter posting.

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Control of Jobar has been divided between moderate rebels, government troops, and jihadists for more than two years.

Regime forces Sunday mounted intense shelling attacks and at least 35 airstrikes on rebel areas in Jobar and the neighbourhood of al-Qaboon north-east of Damascus, according to the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

The assault was led by Islamist groups including Ahrar al-Sham and the recently formed umbrella jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Rebel fighters have been granted safe passage to insurgent-held areas of northern Syria under such agreements.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes. But forces loyal to president Bashar Al Assad had pushed them back by nightfall and began a fierce bombing campaign on Monday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

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