Regime bombards Damascus district in attempt to pry eastern neighborhood from rebel forces

AMMAN: Syrian warplanes bombarded a rebel-held district of eastern Damascus with a dozen airstrikes on Sunday, in the fourth straight day of heavy bombings and attempts by pro-regime forces to break into the area, opposition sources on the ground tell Syria Direct.

Throughout Sunday morning, regime warplanes conducted "twelve airstrikes" on the opposition-controlled Jobar district in eastern Damascus amidst an aerial escalation that began on Thursday, Mohammad Abu Yeman, a spokesman for the pro-opposition Jobar Media Office, told Syria Direct.

Lying on the eastern edge of the Syrian capital city, Jobar is currently divided between regime and rebel fighters. It is important to both because it is the western gate to East Ghouta, the besieged rebel suburbs outside the capital. A two-kilometer section of a strategic highway connecting Damascus to regime military bases on the city's northeastern outskirts also runs through the district.

Jobar has been a focal point for battles east of the capital since rebel factions launched a military offensive in March to break out of the district and capture territory to the north, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Fighting in Jobar continued for months, but slowed when a Russian-led plan to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria went into effect in early May. One of the four zones outlined in the agreement was the neighboring East Ghouta suburbs. For more than one month, bombings in Jobar decreased, and the district saw a relative calm.

 The Jobar district on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Damascus Media Office.

But starting Thursday, pro-regime forces began to heavily bomb the rebel-held sections of the Jobar district from the air and ground. As of mid-afternoon on Sunday, at least 61 airstrikes had hit the district, in addition to artillery shelling and surface-to-surface missiles, Abu Yeman said.

On Saturday, after two days of heavy preliminary bombings, “Assad’s forces attempted to storm the Jobar front,” rebel faction Failaq a-Rahman announced in a statement on Saturday night.

Syrian state news agency SANA does not appear to have commented on the airstrikes or attempts to advance into rebel-held Jobar.

However, the Hmeimim Russian military base in Syria addressed the strikes in a post on its Facebook page Saturday, writing the airstrikes "do not violate the announced de-escalation agreement in the country."

“The extremist members of the terrorist group Jabhat a-Nusra are active in these areas,” the post continued. “They must leave or be faced with a military solution.”

Former Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat a-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fatah a-Sham, is a member of the rebel coalition Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), whose forces participated in March’s Jobar offensive. 

The faction, alongside the Islamic State, is explicitly excluded from the de-escalation agreement.

Both Abu Yeman and a military spokesman with whom Syria Direct spoke on Sunday claimed that Failaq a-Rahman is the only faction fighting in the eastern Damascus district.

 Artillery strikes on Jobar district Thursday evening. Photo courtesy of Lens Young Dimashqi.

"The only fighters stationed on the Jobar front are from Failaq a-Rahman—no one else,” Wael Alwan, a spokesman for the rebel faction, told Syria Direct on Sunday.

HTS forces were previously stationed at a shared military point in the district, added Alwan. But after infighting broke out between HTS and Jaish al-Islam in East Ghouta in April, HTS “handed over control of the district” to allied faction Failaq a-Rahman, the spokesman said.

“These slanderous lies are just pretext, making [HTS] into a scapegoat anywhere [the regime] wants to invade,” said Alwan.

The HTS-linked Ebaa News Agency has not reported the group's involvement in recent clashes in Jobar. On Thursday evening, the agency did report increased shelling and airstrikes in the district via messaging app Telegram.

Heavy bombardment of Jobar continued on Sunday morning as regime forces attempted to advance in the eastern Damascus district, sources in the district tell Syria Direct.

As of Sunday, “90 percent of [the distric’s] homes are destroyed,” according to media spokesman Abu Yeman.

Despite widespread destruction in the district, only injuries were reported during the latest spate of bombings.

“Most residents of Jobar are now living in the [nearby] town of Ain Tarma,” the Abu Yeman told Syria Direct.

“Only 300 families now remain in Jobar, living underground in basements.”

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Yazan Torko

Yazan studied interior design at Damascus university. In 2012, Yazan moved to Jordan where he volunteered with Syrian refugees. He is passionate about theater and previously developed YouTube videos for NGOs and small news outlets.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.