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Monday 20th
posted by James Tweedie in World

Fierce clashes follow blasts as Hetesh attempts to break out

MAJOR battles erupted in Syria’s capital yesterday as al-Qaida-affiliated militants attempted to storm eastern districts.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Hetesh) used a huge tunnel bomb and two suicide car bombers in its bid to break through from the Jobar district to the surrounded Qaboun area of Damascus.

The extremist group claimed to have overrun army posts and captured factories, a bus station and electrical facilities west of the East Ghouta suburb, an insurgent stronghold since the start of the six-year war.

Some reports said power was cut off to the capital as a result. Army sources and reporters for the official Sana news agency denied that, saying troops had “thwarted infiltration efforts.”

But Lebanon’s Al-Masdar News reported that the army had been forced to withdraw after the initial assault but had later reclaimed the Jobar electrical facility and was attacking a factory captured by the militants.

Hetesh is the latest alliance between the the Levant Conquest Front and smaller Western-backed groups.

The attack followed the start of a major insurgent withdrawal from the al-Waer suburb of the central city of Homs on Saturday.

Sana said that 432 gunmen and 1,056 relatives boarded buses to the insurgent-occupied west of Aleppo province as part of a deal struck last week.

Yesterday Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria’s air defences if they target attacking Israeli jets again, despite claiming none of Israel’s planes were lost in Friday’s air raid near Palmyra.

Syria’s armed forces claimed they shot down one of the four attacking aircraft and damaged another early on Friday, accusing Tel Aviv of trying to halt the ongoing advance against Isis east of the desert city.

Israeli media said 1960sera S-200 missiles had been fired, though these are out of date compared with the S-300 and S-400 missiles Russia delivered last year.

“We have no interest in interfering in the Syrian civil war, not for nor against [President Bashar al-] Assad, and we have no interest in clashing with the Russians,” Mr Lieberman claimed.

But the far-right minister said: “Next time, if the Syrian aerial defence apparatus acts against our planes, we will destroy it.”