SYRIA’S al-Qaida affiliate launched a major new assault in Damascus yesterday in the fiercest fighting the capital has seen since 2013.
Hayat Tahrir as-Sham (Hetesh) made a second attempt in three days to break through the government-held Jobar district to Qaboun to the north.
Lebanon’s Al Masdar News reported that the alliance of al-Qaida’s biggest Syrian affiliate and dozens of smaller factions had captured a textile factory in the Maghazel alNaseej industrial zone.
Its correspondent in Damascus said the air force had been flying raids on the Jobar discrict at a rate unheard of since 2013, when insurgents threatened to overrun the city.
But Syria’s Sana news agency said troops had repelled the assault but were still engaged in fierce gun battles.
It said 15 civilians had been injured by Hetesh rocket fire on residential districts of the city.
The Coventry-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 38 pro-government fighters and 34 militants had been killed since fighting broke out at the weekend.
Hetesh militants in Qaboun have been surrounded and under heavy attack for weeks, with the Syrian army slowly gaining ground.
On Sunday the jihadis used a tunnel bomb and several suicide car bombers in a bid to break through the industrial area, causing a city-wide blackout after they captured an electricity substation.
Meanwhile local reports said Egyptian Hetesh commander Abu Islam al-Masri and several of his henchmen were killed by a US drone strike as they drove through a village in Syria’s northern Idlib province.
On Monday the large Free Syrian Army faction Jaysh alFarouq announced it was uniting with Hetesh.