Syrian rebels' Damascus offensive aimed to 'preempt regime assault'

Syrian rebels' Damascus offensive aimed to 'preempt regime assault'
Exclusive: Ahrar al-Sham has told The New Arab that Sunday's surprise rebel assault on Damascus was to prevent a regime offensive on opposition-held Ghouta.
2 min read
23 March, 2017
Syrian rebels are continuing their assault on Damascus [Anadolu]

Syrian rebels launched their surprise offensive on Damascus on Sunday to pre-empt a regime invasion of the nearby Ghouta suburbs, a leading figure in the armed movement has revealed to The New Arab.

Opposition forces were forced to launch the assault on eastern Damascus due to intelligence reports suggesting regime forces planned an assault on rebel-held Ghouta in the Damascus suburbs - despite a ceasefire being in place, said Ahrar al-Sham's spokesperson.

"Assad's militias were preparing for a military invasion of Qaboon in Ghouta, so we prepared an offensive with the support of Allah." Omran Mohammed told The New Arab.

He said the pre-emptive attack led to rebel forces capturing the regime's battle-planning room for the planned Ghouta offensive, along with other vital infrastructure.

"We destroyed the militias' operations room for this battle and we also took the building of the electricity company and the tanks desposit, factories and other buildings," Mohammed said.

"Assad's militias caused us to pull back, so we re-arranged the plan once again and we started another offensive and took the Damascus-Homs highway and connected Qaboon with Jobar," he added, referring to the two rebel-held districts on the capital's outskirts.
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The attack was led by Hayaat Tahrir al-Sham [which includes former al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah al-Sham] from Jobar.

It was backed by Faylaq al-Sham, the Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham - one of Syria's largest rebel groups, based mainly in Idlib.

After withdrawing on Monday following a regime counter-offensive, rebels launched a new phase of operations on Tuesday, winning back territories.

Rebel attacks on eastern Damascus are continuing, with reports of rebels pulling out of part of the industrial zone. 

Regime forces have launched hundreds of air raids and shelling on opposition areas of Damascus in response to the offensive.

In another surprise assault by rebel forces in Hama, Syria's fourth-largest city has been put within reach of opposition fighters.

Ahrar al-Sham is not taking part in this operation, but Mohammed said the rebel group was planning other assaults outside Damascus to support the rebel offensive.

North-west Hama has been identified as a possible theatre for Ahrar al-Sham, with the town of Kernaz likely to be a target.

New attacks by rebel forces in the area have led to two planes and a helicopter being destroyed, sources told The New Arab.

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