Syrian fighters battled Bashar Assad’s forces on the edge of central Damascus, opposition activists said, seeking to break his grip over districts leading to the heart of the capital.
Their offensive aims to break a stalemate in the city of two million people, where artillery and air strikes have prevented opposition fighters entrenched to the east from advancing despite their capture of army fortifications, the activists said.
“We have moved the battle to Jobar,” Captain Islam Alloush of the Islam Brigade told Reuters, referring to a district which links rebel strongholds in the eastern suburbs with the central Abbasid Square.
“The heaviest fighting is taking place in Jobar because it is the key to the heart of Damascus.”
Assad has lost control of large parts of the country but his forces, backed by air power, have so far kept fighters on the fringes of the capital.
Fighters said they had made significant gains.
“Parts of the Damascus ringroad fell to us today. The road has been effectively the last remaining barrier between the Ghouta and the city,” said Abu Ghazi, a rebel commander based in the eastern suburb of Irbeen.
“There is a new strategy, brigades are united. What is happening in the field is huge but it is a preparation for bigger operations,” said Abu Moaz Al-Agha, a spokesman of the Gathering of Ansar Al-Islam.