Clashes break out in Syrian capital after insurgents attack
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian security forces gather in front the main judicial building which attacked by a suicide bomber, in Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (SANA via AP)
Philip Issa, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, March 19, 2017 10:49AM EDT
BEIRUT -- Fierce clashes broke out in the Syrian capital on Sunday after insurgents infiltrated government-held parts of the eastern side of the city through tunnels overnight, state media said.
It was a surprising breach of the government's Damascus security perimeter, where it has effectively walled itself off against two opposition enclaves in the eastern parts of the city.
Residents said artillery shells and rockets were landing inside the heart of the city, and the activist-run Damascus Today Facebook group reported government air raids over the area of the clashes.
Reinforcements arrived on the government side to repel the attack in the afternoon, the group said.
The clashes centred around the city's Abasseen neighbourhood, a government-held area sandwiched between the besieged, opposition-held Jobar and Qaboun neighbourhoods.
With its military depleted from six years of fighting and defections, the Syrian government relies on a blend of official and semi-official forces to defend its territory, including Shiite militias from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern countries.
Rebels detonated two large car bombs at 5:20 a.m. Sunday close to the Jobar neighbourhood. Syrian state media said the military repelled an attack by an al-Qaida-linked group after "terrorists" infiltrated through tunnels in the middle of the night. It reported clashes in Qaboun and Jobar.
Jobar is one of three pockets in the Syrian capital still in opposition hands. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013.