AMMAN: Syrian warplanes bombed a Damascus suburb yesterday, opposition activists said, as heavy fighting raged for the second day on the outskirts, challenging Bashar Assad’s hold on the capital.
MiG fighter jets hit the suburb of Daraya, a major opposition center of the 20-month revolt situated amid farmland near the main southern highway, where rebels have been battling elite Republican Guard units.
Fighters said that Assad’s forces were finding it harder to dislodge them than when they last entered the suburb in August.
After months of slow progress, the fighters have in the last few weeks captured several army positions on the outskirts of Damascus and outlying regions, including a special forces base near Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub, and an air defense position near the southern gate of the capital, according to activists, video footage and diplomats following the military situation.
Assad’s opponents are also gaining some support internationally as a newly formed coalition of opposition and fighter groups seeks recognition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people, with Britain becoming the ninth country to grant it such status.
Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said the developments of the last few weeks were shifting the balance in favor of the fighters.
“The use of the world ‘stalemate’ to describe the conflict may no longer be appropriate,” he told Reuters by phone. “The fighters have moved up the ladder of warfare.”
Fighting was also reported in Damascus’s eastern suburb of Irbin, where rebels said they had destroyed one tank and killed two Republican Guards. “The whole eastern Ghouta is basically a liberated area. Assad’s army still has superior firepower, but is being eroded. It can no longer push forward with a lot of troops,” said Abu Ghazi, an activist-turned-fighter in Irbin.
Severe restrictions on non-state media make it impossible to verify such reports independently.
Seven civilians and three fighters were killed in fighting and bombardments on Daraya, opposition sources said.
Two died from shrapnel when artillery hit the basement of a building in which they were sheltering, activists said.
“Last time the rebels were in Daraya, they worked separately and the regime moved in, drove them out and took revenge on the civilian population,” said Fawaz Tello, a veteran opposition campaigner with links to fighters.
“The fact that the fighters have recaptured Daraya and are fending off Assad’s best forces indicates a change on the ground,” Tello said from Berlin.