A Syrian rebel group known as the Army of Islam launched a rocket attack against Syria's capital of Damascus. It was the worst strike against the city in over a year, killing seven people. Residents fear the rocket volley marks a new escalation in a civil war that has already taken over 200,000 lives.
Al-Jazeera reports that the Army of Islam indiscriminately fired between 50 and 150 rockets into civilian neighborhoods of Damascus last Sunday. Five civilians and two soldiers died in the onslaught.
The rockets came from the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold. Activists claimed the rockets landed in several neighborhoods, including Malki where the presidential palace is located.
The rebel group's leader says the attack was retaliation for airstrikes from the Assad regime. One strike killed 56 in Eastern Ghouta, including children.
According to Reuters, Rami Abdulrahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Assad was also shelling Douma, a rebel-held village. But, Reuters was not able to independently verify those attacks.
The Army of Islam is a coalition of over 40 different rebel factions, but it rejected membership in the more secular Free Syrian Army. The rebel group has outside support from two U.S. allies. Saudi Arabia has given the Army of Islam millions of dollars to train and arm fighters. Likewise, Pakistan has sent military advisers to help train the rebels.
The rebel coalition opposes ISIL and Al Qaeda. They've also criticized Hamas. Still, the group has a checkered past of human rights violations, including participation in the massacre of Christians and other minorities in the town of Adra.
In the most recent attack, the Syria's state media claimed the rockets were directed at mosques, churches, and schools. Likewise, Syria monitor, Youmiyat Qazifat Hawen, says the rockets landed randomly in the streets of Damascus and showed photos of bloodied children and smashed cafes on their Facebook page.
Zahran Aloush, the leader of the rebel coalition, countered saying, "we warn people in Damascus about the regime's tricks and crimes."
Aloush claimed that the rocket attack was directed at President Assad's palace. The group attempted to impose a curfew on Damascus over Twitter for the safety of civilians. The curfew was lifted late Sunday.
The residents of Damascus used the warning to go on a shopping spree in supermarkets to stock up and stay inside for the weekend. The Syrian civil war has already killed 200,000 but Damascus has been relatively safe, but rocket attacks might create a new fear for residents.
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