Clashes in Syria capital after surprise rebel assault

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Syrian rebels stormed a government-held area in northeastern Damascus for the second time in three days, sources on both sides said, pressing the boldest assault on the capital by opposition fighters in several years.

The head of the UK-based monitoring group, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP news agency that Tuesday's rebel assault began with a "big blast at dawn, most likely due to a vehicle bomb attack by the rebels against a regime position between the districts of Jobar and Qaboun".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his army, along with allied Russian, Iranian and Shi'ite militia forces, have put rebels on the back foot with a steady succession of military victories over the past 18 months, including around Damascus.

A pro-regime media unit run by Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Assad, said that fighting continued with the rebels who attacked its positions north of Hama.

The official SANA news agency said 12 people were wounded in rebel shelling. The rebel assault aims partly to relieve that pressure.

The campaign brought together a number of rival factions, including the Levant Liberation Committee, two ultraconservative factions - Ahrar al-Sham and the Islam Army - and the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Failaq al-Rahman.

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Jobar separates Eastern Ghouta, which holds large concentrations of Takfiri terrorists, from Damascus.

Abbasid Square was returning to normal on Monday, AFP correspondents said, as residents surveyed the damage from the latest clashes.

Syrian state TV yesterday quoted Russia's ambassador to Damascus saying one of the embassy's buildings was hit with a shell during the clashes.

Government forces subsequently launched a fierce counterattack and by Sunday evening state media were reporting that they had regained the industrial area.

The death toll from the fighting on Sunday reached nearly 50 according to the group, with at least 26 regime forces and 21 rebels and jihadists reported dead in clashes. The attacks came as Syria marked six years since the start of the civil war, which has claimed the lives of 320,000 people. The militant group, which has been excluded from the all-Syrian ceasefire and recently recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist entity, has been joined in its push by hardline Ahrar Al-Sham as well as some factions of the Free Syrian Army.

While the rebels did not gain ground Tuesday, they fell short of their goal to create a supply road by linking two areas in the eastern part of Damascus.