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Syrian Army Poised To Retake Last Al-Qaeda Held District In Damascus

This week the Syrian Army has been pounding the last al-Qaeda held district of Damascus, and as Alarabiya TV reports, an all out ground assault by the army is looking "imminent". Jobar lies within the Syrian capital's eastern side and extends close to the center of the city. The district has been held by armed opposition groups since 2013, and quickly became ground zero for al-Qaeda presence in Damascus over the past years. While the neighboring Old City and downtown districts have largely returned to normalcy after years of nation wide fighting - even including a thriving nightlife of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants - mortar shells have routinely been lobbed from Jobar. Christian and Shia neighborhoods of the Old City near "Straight Street" have been especially impacted.

But now as external supply lines to various armed opposition pockets throughout Syria have been more or less reduced and restricted, especially with Trump's recent closure of the CIA's Syrian arms program and with Saudi-Qatari GCC infighting, and as the Syrian Army has mostly confined al-Qaeda fighters operating in the country's North to Iblib, the army is promising a full and final liberation of Jobar.


Explosions light up the Damascus sky with Mt. Qasioun in the background.
Photo provided by a local Damascus photographer, via Leith Fadel.

Middle East based Al-Masdar News spoke to a military officer of Syria's elite 42nd Brigade of the 4th Mechanized Division, now advancing in Jobar, and summarized the situation as follows:

His unit captured more than ten building blocks around the Al-Manasher Roundabout, killing and wounding several militants from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Faylaq Al-Rahman.

 

The officer added that the Syrian Army will continue to advance on the ground during the day and pound the Islamist rebels with surface-to-surface missiles at night; they will stop their assault once Jobar is cleared or the militants surrender.


The specific groups operating in Jobar primarily include the Islamist group Faylaq Al-Rahman and al-Qaeda linked Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS/al-Nusra). HTS also recently made headlines after emerging victorious against other Islamist factions in consolidating control over Idlib Province, where it currently seeks to establish a caliphate. It forced out main rival, Ahrar al-Sham, which was favored by Turkey and other external powers seeking to topple the Syrian government. Western media outlets and prominent think tank 'experts' had long defended al-Qaeda linked Ahrar al-Sham as 'moderate' - yet in reality HTS dominance over Idlib was strengthened only after, according to multiple reports, "thousands of hardline Ahrar al Sham fighters, who are sympathetic to al-Qaida, defected from the movement to join JFS in forming the HTS alliance." Currently, Russia in conjunction with other international powers are weighing military operations to dislodge the northwestern province from HTS control. 

Residents throughout Damascus are currently experiencing frequent rattling and shaking of buildings as fighting is now at the most intense it's been in months or perhaps years - mortars, rockets, and tank fire is lighting up the night sky. This week dozens of Syrian soldiers have been reported killed during fighting in and near the capital.

A number of areas in Damascus that once had heavy barricades and frequent checkpoints are reducing the restricted movement zones as life begins to return to normal. The impending liberation of Jobar district from al-Qaeda would take the pressure off of the millions of Syrians living in urban Damascus who have long been under constant threat of mortar fire and terror attack. But liberation of all of East Ghouta, which stretches far outside the city environs, is likely going to be a long extended campaign against what is already morphing into an endless 'underground' insurgency which will keep the fires burning in Syria.