Syria: Damascus Repels Another Rebel Attack

A Syrian rebel takes position with a heavy machine gun on the Jabal al-Turkman mountain in Syrian's northern Latakia province on 5 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - Aamir Qureshi)

By: Anas Zarzar, Marah Mashi

Published Thursday, February 7, 2013

The armed Syrian opposition declared yet another “zero hour” to take Damascus on Wednesday. By nightfall, however, the army managed to restore order in the capital and widen its offensive against the rebels in the countryside.

Residents of Damascus woke up on Wednesday, 6 February 2013, to the sound of explosions and armed skirmishes echoing throughout the city.

They wondered whether it was the armed forces attacking the Free Syrian Army (FSA), or was it due to a rebel offensive against military checkpoints along the flyover junction south of the capital.

As it turned out, the Islamist al-Nusra Front had declared operation “Just Punishment,” the aim of which was to enter into the heart of Damascus.

Nusra’s call was backed by the various factions of the FSA, who gave the offensive various names on social networking sites, such as the “Great Battle for Damascus” and the “Great Confrontation.”

Residents of the historic Bab Tuma district in the city center called those of Jermana to the east to ask them whether they knew the source of the fighting which was shaking the walls of their old houses. Meanwhile, people in the main avenues in the city center ran for cover believing that the battles were very close to them.

Nothing was certain at first other than the fact that Wednesday was the worst day of fighting Damascus has witnessed since the FSA declared it “zero hour” to take the city in December 2012.

The Syrian army responded forcefully by targeting the areas of Jobar, Harasta, and Idlib to the northeast of the capital, after having called on residents to leave these areas the previous day in preparation for a major advance.

Military sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that one of their checkpoints in the Kiswah area south of Damascus came under attack, resulting in the death of an officer and a soldier.

The source attributed attacks in this relatively quiet area to attempts by the rebels to relieve pressure on fighters in Daraya, located southwest of the capital, which the military has almost completely retaken from the opposition and will soon declare a safe area.

In Damascus, panicked parents rushed to pick up their children from schools, fearing something unexpected might happen. But before long, the city’s streets began to return to normal, despite the heavy presence of security forces.

Meanwhile, unprecedented clashes continued along the arc of northern slums, with heavy fighting spreading to Harasta and at one point reaching Abbasiyin Square, which is not far from the city center.

The exchange of fire and shelling continued into the evening hours. By nightfall, there was a period of relative calm combined with a noticeable increase in military checkpoints throughout the streets and squares leading into the city.

This was followed by the usual exchange of conflicting reports by both the official media and opposition sources.

While the rebels declared that their attack on several government forces’ checkpoints led to dozens of casualties, official sources maintained that the military was in the process of imposing a rebel-free buffer zone around the capital.

In this context, a security source told AFP that “the army is carrying out a wide offensive” in the Damascus countryside, where there are many opposition hideouts which are used as rear bases for attacks on the capital. The source added that “all entry points to Damascus are closed.”

The opposition Revolutionary Military Council for its part issued a statement calling on residents of Damascus “not to venture out into the street unless absolutely necessary, particularly in those areas where clashes are taking place,” declaring “the southern areas military zones until further notice.”

Compared to previous such operations, the regime managed to quickly repel the offensive from the south, suggesting that it is better prepared for any surprise attacks on the capital.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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