Nine Killed in Heavy Rocket Attack on Syrian Capital

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Published Monday, January 26, 2015

Western and Saudi-backed militants struck residential areas in the Syrian capital with barrage of rockets and mortar rounds on Sunday, killing nine civilians, state media reported, in one of the heaviest attacks on Damascus in over a year.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), nine civilian were killed in the shelling and at least 30 civilians were injured, some sustaining critical injuries.

The Saudi-backed Jaysh a-Islam (Army of Islam), based in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus, had warned earlier that it would hit back against an airstrike last week in Ghouta in which more than 40 people were killed.

Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the violence in the country, said on Sunday that seven were killed in what he described as the “heaviest attack on the capital for more than a year.”

"Five civilians and two soldiers have been killed and dozens more wounded, as rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area fired more than 43 locally made rockets and mortar rounds at several areas of central Damascus," the pro-opposition organization said.

Among the areas hit were the al-Maliki and Mazzeh neighborhoods, as well as Arnus and Sabaa Bahrat squares, the Britain-based group said.

AFP journalists near Sabaa Bahrat square heard the blasts, while ambulances and fire trucks were seen rushing to the area.

Damascus residents said Sunday's rockets seemed to be mortars and Katyusha.

Abdulrahman said that the Syrian army was shelling the town of Douma where the Islam Army, funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, is powerful.

Douma lies on one of the main roads linking the capital with Homs city further north. Reuters could not independently verify Abdulrahman’s claims.

SANA, meanwhile, quoting a military source, said the army fired back at the source of the incoming fire in Eastern Ghouta, without providing any details of casualties or naming the areas hit.

The attack came two days after Zahran Alloush, the head of the rebel Army of Islam group, warned on Twitter that his forces would launch a "rocket campaign against the capital" from Sunday.

He wrote that rockets would "rain down every day... in retaliation for the regime's savage air raids" against residents in Eastern Ghouta.

Syrian army aircraft on Friday carried out a series of deadly raids against militant-held Homuriya in the besieged Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus.

Throughout Damascus has been relatively calm, shielded from the war since the Syrian army and allied militias pushed the rebels back in 2013.

Syria's conflict began as a peaceful revolt demanding democratic change, but evolved into a brutal war, with Islamists pouring into the country from all over the world, seeking to establish an “Islamic caliphate.”

More than 200,000 people have been reportedly killed since March 2011 and half the population has been forced to flee their homes.

Syria rebels overtake strategic base in south

Syrian insurgents including militants from al-Qaeda's Nusra Front, seized an important Syrian army base in the southwestern Deraa province on Sunday, militants who took part in the battle claimed.

The base, one of several used to pound rebel-held villages and towns in southern Syria and along the frontier with Jordan, lies at the heart of a heavily fortified zone which has formed a southern line of defense protecting the capital, Damascus.

The militants said hundreds of insurgents armed with rocket launchers and anti-aircraft weapons had taken over the Brigade 82 base near the town of Sheikh Maskeen, close to the main north-south highway between Damascus and Jordan.

"This advance will help us cut supply routes of the regime forces in the south from their supplies in the north to be able to eventually take over Deraa city," Colonel Saber Safar, a leader of the First Army, a major faction of Western-backed rebels in the "Southern Front" grouping, told Reuters by phone.

Fighters said the capture of the base had helped them to overrun most of the nearby town of Sheikh Maskeen, which they have attacked several times in last few months, but failed to seize.

The town is one of the main army supply routes to the city of Deraa, along the border with Jordan that was mainly in the hands of the Syrian army.

The south is the last major stronghold of the rebels, who have been weakened elsewhere by the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in the east and north, and gains by the Nusra Front in the northwest.

However, Nusra is fighting in the south alongside the Western-backed militants.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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