Fierce clashes in Damascus following rebel attack

Martin Mc Guinness outside the Guildhall in Co Derry after giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday tribunal

The military said it killed and injured a number of the Takfiris, destroyed two of the attackers' explosives-laden vehicles, and stopped them as they tried to make an inroad into the district through underground tunnels. "The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday's assault".

Damascus has not seen such attacks in months if not years, said SOHR Director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Lina Khatib, the head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House said this is the first attack in Damascus of its kind by rebel groups that, until now, had been operating mainly in northern Syria.

The sudden rebel seizure of territory in the Syrian capital - and the manner in which the attack that took place overnight and into Sunday, with rebels sneaking into the city through underground tunnels and using auto bombs - reflected the insurgents' most serious infiltration into Damascus in years.

Members of al-Qaeda also participated in the anti-government offensive on Sunday in the Jobar quarter. Control of Jobar - which has been a battleground for more than two years - is divided between rebels and allied jihadists and government forces.

By Monday, the front line had been pushed back and AFP correspondents said activity in the typically bustling Abbasid Square was returning to normal levels.

Rebels detonated two large vehicle bombs at 5:20am on Sunday close to the Jobar neighborhood.

The agency reported that opposition fighters on Sunday bombarded the Russian embassy compound in the capital's Mazraa neighbourhood but that there were no casualties.

The rebel offensive brought them close to the heart of the Old City of Damascus.

The attack comes just days before a fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva aiming at ending Syria's six-year war.

The intensity of the Syrian army's counterattack forced the rebels to retreat on Sunday night from at least 60 percent of the areas they captured that day in an industrial area that separated Qaboun from Jobar, a rebel spokesman said.

The army had advanced towards a road between Qaboun and Barza, whose capture severed the links between the two besieged rebel districts where tens of thousands of people live.

"They're spread too thin and this has allowed rebels to advance".

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