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Syria: Air raids on east Damascus after rebel assault

Fierce bombing follows Sunday's surprise rebel attack on government positions in the east of Syria's capital.

rebel assault

Syrian government jets bombarded opposition-held neighbourhoods of Damascus on Monday a day after opposition forces launched a surprise assault.

Rebel groups allied with former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham attacked government positions in the east of the capital early on Sunday morning in a complex and co-ordinated operation.

But forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad drove them back by nightfall, a war monitor said, and began a fierce bombing campaign on Monday morning.

"There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.

"The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday's assault," he added.

Abdel Rahman said it was unclear whether government forces or their Russian allies were carrying out Monday's raids on Jobar.

READ MORE: Syria's Civil War explained

The fighting killed at least 26 government soldiers or allied fighters and 21 rebels, Abdel Rahman said, but he did not have an immediate toll for Monday morning's raids.

'Opposition remains powerful'

On Sunday, opposition fighters seized several buildings in Jobar before advancing into the neighbouring Abbasiyn Square area - the first time in two years that the opposition advanced so close to the capital's centre.

Fighting raged close to the old city in Damascus and the advance linked Jober to Qaboun and other areas to the north which had been under government siege.

Control of Jobar - which has been a battleground for more than two years - is divided between rebels and allied fighters on one side, and government forces on the other. 

Tahrir al-Sham - an umbrella group of hardline rebels formed by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham last month - and the independent Failaq al-Rahman group also participated in the attack.

Syrian state TV on Monday quoted Russia's ambassador to Damascus as saying one of the embassy's buildings was hit with a shell during the clashes.

Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria at the University of Oklahoma, said on Monday that the rebel offensive had taken the government by surprise and that a significant response was inevitable.

"The regime is going to realise that it cannot allow these two areas to linger there because they are beachheads for this Tahrir al-Sham group to make inroads into the Damascus area," he said, adding the government would likely withdraw some forces from areas such as Homs and Hama to refocus on Damascus.

"It means that the fight is still on, there are many fronts to this war, and the opposition remains powerful."

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