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Rebels gain edge in battle for ground bombardment site in East Ghouta

AMMAN: Jaish al-Islam and Failaq a-Rahman rebels battled regime forces […]

14 September 2015

AMMAN: Jaish al-Islam and Failaq a-Rahman rebels battled regime forces inside a fortified regime position in the east Damascus suburbs on Monday during an ongoing offensive launched just under a week ago to take a regime suburb that is the source of ground-based bombardments of East Ghouta.

The al-Assad suburb, ground zero for what Jaish al-Islam is calling the “God Prevails” battle, overlooks East Ghouta and is largely inhabited by regime officers. The town, approximately 1.5 km from JAI’s headquarters in Douma, is surrounded by military positions from which most ground bombardment and artillery targeting rebel-held East Ghouta originates.

Local pro-regime media confirmed the presence of violent clashes inside the suburb and along the Damascus-Homs highway to the east on Sunday, posting images of regime tanks inside its perimeter on Monday.

“I believe that the ‘God Prevails’ battle is one of the largest battles Ghouta has seen, if not the largest,” Abu al-Hassan al-Andalusi, a pro-opposition activist in East Ghouta, told Syria Direct on Monday of the ongoing fighting in the al-Assad suburb.

Last Wednesday, Jaish al-Islam launched offensives against the regime-held Tel Kurdi area and Adra prison northeast of Douma before expanding fighting towards the edges of the al-Assad suburb on Friday, where fighting continues.

The “God Prevails” battle may prove to be a test of regime staying power when faced with a ground assault by two of the largest militias fighting in East Ghouta.

“Victories in battle led us to advance to other areas that we had not previously planned on,” JAI spokesman Islam Alloush told Syria Direct on Monday, adding that 270 regime fighters and members of regime-aligned Palestinian Liberation Front forces had been killed in fighting, including a brigadier general. The casualties could not be independently confirmed.

To meet the needs of the expanded scope of ongoing fighting, JAI issued a general call for volunteers on Sunday. On Monday, “large numbers of volunteers waited at JAI centers to receive weapons and learn where they will be stationed,” Abdel Haq Hamam, a civilian journalist in Douma, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Failaq a-Rahman, another Islamist militia in East Ghouta, officially joined the battle on Sunday, Muhammad a-Shami, a Failaq spokesman told Syria Direct on Monday, days after the group announced the formation of a joint operations room with JAI to “coordinate all military actions on all military fronts in East Ghouta.”

 Failaq a-Rahman rebels in East Ghouta over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Bara Abdel Rahman.

Retaliatory airstrikes

Coinciding with the battles, dozens of regime air raids and shelling in Douma on Monday killed and injured a number of civilians in the city just east of the al-Assad suburb, the Douma LCC reported Monday, with the raids allegedly in response to ongoing battles with rebels.

“Members of the Civil Defense are on high alert,” Mahmoud Adam, spokesman for the Outer Damascus Civil Defense told Syria Direct on Monday, “as a result of the hysterical bombardment of Douma in response to JAI advances.” Regime strikes destroyed an entire neighborhood in Douma, he said.

Pro-regime media also mentioned military operations around Douma on Monday, stating that regime airpower had “targeted machinery and positions of armed organizations around Douma.”

In nearby Harasta, another rebel-held East Ghouta city just west of Douma, a number of Civil Defense personnel were killed on Sunday when a regime airstrike hit the Civil Defense center, Adam added.  

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