x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Families trapped by fighting in Damascus mosque

Syria's main Western-backed opposition group claims 200 civilians were trapped in a mosque in Qaboun, near Jobar, as fighting raged outside between rebels and Mr Al Assad's army.

DAMASCUS // Heavy clashes between government forces and rebels broke out yesterday on the edge of the Syrian capital, where the government has been pushing to retake key districts that have been in opposition hands for months.

The Syrian military has seized the initiative in the nation's civil war over the past three months, wresting back territory lost to rebel forces and solidifying its hold on contested areas, particularly on the fringes of Damascus.

Two of those embattled districts in the capital are Jobar and Qaboun, from which forces fighting against the president, Bashar Al Assad, frequently launch mortar rounds on the heart of the capital.

A Syrian government official said forces loyal to Mr Al Assad had recaptured 60 per cent of Jobar and were trying to recover the remainder of the area. The remarks, made yesterday during a military-escorted tour of Jobar organised by the information ministry, could not be independently verified.

But there was massive destruction in Jobar that pointed to heavy fighting in the neighborhood

At least two bodies of gunmen were lying on the floor of a bunker described as a "terrorist" hideout.

RPG mortar rounds, explosive devices and a chemical material with a strong odor were also shown on the tour.

Arabic graffiti on the walls read: "The Al Tawhid Brigade" and "the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" - names of militant groups fighting to topple Assad.

The tour came as Syria's main Western-backed opposition group claimed that 200 civilians were trapped in a mosque in Qaboun, near Jobar, as fighting raged outside between rebels and Mr Al Assad's army.

It warned that thousands of civilians in Qaboun could be "massacred" the army as armoured vehicles and elite forces move into the neighborhood.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said dozens of people were held captive on Saturday by regime forces in the basement of Al Omari Mosque, but were able to escape when clashes broke out between rebel and regime forces on the perimeter of the mosque, leading troops to retreat.

* Associated Press