Rebels tunnel into govt-held areas in Damascus

Fierce clashes broke out in the Syrian capital on Sunday after insurgents infiltrated government-held parts of the city through tunnels overnight in a rare advance after months of steady losses elsewhere in the country.

It was a surprising breach of the security perimeter in Damascus, where the government has effectively walled itself off from opposition forces encamped in two enclaves in the eastern parts of the city.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has endeavoured to maintain a veneer of normality in the capital as his forces bomb opposition areas on the edges and suburbs of the city.

Residents said artillery shells and rockets had landed in the heart of the city. Damascus Today, a Facebook group run by activists, reported government airstrikes in the area where the clashes took place.

Government infantry and tank reinforcements arrived to repel the attackers in the afternoon, the group said.

With its military depleted after six years of fighting and defections, the Syrian government relies on a blend of official and semi-official forces to defend its territory, including Shia militias from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.

The clashes centred on a government-held gap between two besieged opposition enclaves, the Jobar and Qaboun neighbourhoods. The ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction said fighters had liberated the area.

 

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