Rebels shell symbolic regime neighborhood in retaliation for east Damascus offensive

AMMAN: Syrian rebels are shelling a deeply symbolic, pro-regime neighborhood in Damascus on Monday “in response” to a two-week government campaign to capture strategic opposition-held territory east of the capital.

Scores of mortars reportedly fired from rebel-controlled territory pounded the regime’s Alawite-majority district of Dahiyat al-Assad since Sunday, killing up to four civilians and injuring dozens of others.

Located in northeast Damascus, Dahiyat al-Assad, or Assad Suburb, is a staunchly pro-regime district that counts Syrian Arab Army (SAA) officers and their families among its residents and hosts several key military installations. The suburb was built in 1982 to create a new bastion of Alawite support for the regime of Hafez al-Assad, the father of current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, by housing newly minted officers and their families.

 Dahiyat al-Assad schoolchildren gather in the halls following nearby mortar fire on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Damascus Mortar Shell Diaries.

The rebel attack on Dahiyat al-Assad appears to be retaliation for the regime’s ongoing bombardment of two opposition-controlled districts in east Damascus: Qaboun and Tishreen.

“Blood for blood, destruction for destruction…[this is] in response for the massacres in Ghouta and the east Damascus neighborhoods,” Ali Abdulbaqi, chief of staff for East Ghouta’s largest rebel faction, Jaish al-Islam, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“God willing, the fortress of the tyrants is going to shake,” he added.

Rebel shelling of Dahiyat al-Assad forced local schools to close on Monday, one day after a mortar hit a taxi, killing four civilians.

Syrian state media outlet SANA claimed “terrorist groups” reportedly positioned in al-Qaboun and East Ghouta carried out the deadly attacks on Sunday. Local pro-opposition media confirmed the shelling of Dahiyat al-Assad on Sunday, saying “mortar fire targeted positions of regime militias.”

Since the ramp-up in government bombing of rebel-held east Damascus, residents in the Dahiyat al-Assad neighborhood say they have witnessed a concurrent uptick in shelling coming from opposition-controlled territory just 1km away.

“There have been at least five shells falling every day since the start of military operations in Qaboun,” Nour, a member of the Dahiyat al-Assad News Network, told Syria Direct on Monday. “Previously, we could go a day or two without any."

 Syrian Civil Defense search for survivors following an airstrike in Qaboun in February. Photo courtesy of MSALLAM ABDALBASET/AFP/Getty Images

Regime warplanes have hit Tishreen and Qaboun with more than 30 airstrikes as well as scores of mortars, artillery fire and tank shells since Sunday, local opposition media reported.

Up to 85 percent of Tishreen and 60 percent of Qaboun have been demolished since mid-February, Eyad Abu al-Joud, head of the Syrian Civil Defense in eastern Damascus told Syria Direct last week.

The government offensive, which began in mid-February, is the most intense escalation in the area since the two neighborhoods signed a ceasefire with the regime in July 2014. The campaign comes amidst months of sweeping regime success in eliminating pockets of rebel influence and control surrounding the capital.

 

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Justin Schuster

Justin was a 2015-2016 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from Yale University with a double major in Global Affairs and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. While at Yale, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the political journal, The Politic. His previous work and research in the Middle East includes time spent in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, and the West Bank.