(Zaman Al Wasl)- Syrian rebels made surprise gains on Sunday, taking ground at the eastern gate of the capital links between Qaboun and Jobar neighborhoods amid state of chaos in regime ranks and people of the capital, activists said.
Rebels launched a major offensive early on Sunday that brought them close to the heart of the Old City of Damascus, where the regime forces responded with intense bombardments of Eastern Ghouta, left at least 8 people killed in Arbin and Harasta suburbs.
Rebels began their attack on regime positions with two suicide car bombs, that killed dozens of regime troops and allied militias, rebel source said.
The escalation marked a bid by the rebels to relieve army pressure on besieged areas they control to the east of the capital.
Moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and jihadist groups were both involved in the assault on the districts of Jobar and Abbasiyin, some 2 km (1.2 miles) east of the Old City walls.
Rebels took Abbasiyin Bus Station and few blocks of the industrial zone, local reporter said.
Witnesses said the army deployed tanks in al-Tijara and al-Adawi neighborhoods, and troops could be seen patrolling on foot.
"The streets are empty and the army has despatched dozens of troops in the streets, and tanks are being moved. The sounds of mortars from Jobar have not stopped," a resident of the nearby Tijara neighborhood told Reuters.
Another witness said most shops had closed in areas close to the fighting, as people fled further away from the clashes.
Heavy explosions rang out in the background as state TV broadcast live from Abbasiyin square, a usually teeming area that seemed to be deserted of traffic and pedestrians.
The army and its militias have for months been targeting Eastern Ghouta, the biggest remaining rebel bastion near Damascus, while making only incremental gains.
Rebel sources said their attack on Jobar, which they held for a time in 2013, was in response to their loss of ground in Qaboun and Barza, two other districts to the north.
"This is to relieve the pressure on rebels, with the regime not stopping its bombardment and artillery shelling on our people," Abu Abdo, a commander from rebel group Failaq al Rahman said via internet messaging, adding that the aim was to link up Jobar with Qaboun.
He said the rebel operation had included two suicide bombings launched by Tahrir al Sham, a coalition of jihadist groups whose backbone is the former al Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said rebels had captured several industrial sites and buildings east of the capital after launching their surprise attack.
The Observatory said rebel shells hit several districts, and government warplanes pounded the Jobar area in response.
Another rebel fighter acknowledged army advances towards a major road between Qaboun and Barza. The capture of that road would sever the link between the two besieged rebel districts, where tens of thousands of people live.
"Taking this road would isolate Barza and Qaboun completely and with a security belt around it," said Abu Abdullah, another fighter with Failaq al Rahman. (With Reuters)