BEIRUT, Lebanon-- The Syrian army began a large-scale military operation in an eastern neighborhood of the country’s capital, Damascus, on Wednesday. The operation is extremely strategic for the Syrian regime and if successful, could help forces loyal to President Bashar Assad secure the city.
"The army began a military operation this morning with the aim of expanding a security zone around areas controlled [by the government,]” a Syrian military source told Agence France-Presse. "It began in Jobar with limited, precise and effective operations against lines of defense used by armed groups to observe the rest of the capital.”
The neighborhood of Jobar has been the scene of near-constant fighting over the last three years but has largely been controlled by opposition forces that pose a great threat to the Syrian regime. Opposition forces in Jobar have access to a major road that leads to the center of Damascus -- the regime heartland -- and to Eastern Ghouta, another opposition-held neighborhood of Damascus.
Over the past year, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra has also raised its flag in the neighborhood, but it is predominantly under control of Jaish al-Islam, a Syrian opposition group that is strongly opposed to the Islamic State group.
Sources within Jaish al-Islam reported that the group had successfully repelled the ground operation and that pro-regime forces retreated after suffering casualties. A military spokesman for the group said that at least 20 pro-regime troops were killed in clashes. International Business Times could not independently confirm the death toll.
“We destroyed four tanks there,” Jaish al-Islam spokesman Islam Alloush told IBT. He added that the ground troops had retreated “just minutes” before.
In addition to the ground operation in Jobar, “Syrian aircraft are in action but not Russian ones,” a military source told AFP. However, pro-opposition sources on the ground and Alloush claimed that Russian missiles and warplanes targeted Jobar. Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon fought alongside the Syrian army in the ground operation, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Iranian lawmakers arrived in Damascus on Wednesday in preparation for a joint operation in the area surrounding Syria’s second largest city Aleppo, according to Reuters. Earlier this week IBT reported that within days, Iran would be sending new fighters from its elite Quds force to support the Syrian Army. According to a high-ranking Hezbollah commander, the majority of Iran’s newly deployed soldiers will be stationed in the southern province of Deraa.
Control in the area around Aleppo is divided among pro-regime forces, Syrian opposition fighters and terrorist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State group. Hezbollah fighters, Syrian army troops and Iran-backed militias will take part in the ground offensive in Aleppo; Russia will contribute air support.
"The international coalition led by America has failed in the fight against terrorism. The cooperation between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia has been positive and successful," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said as he arrived in Damascus, according to Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB.