Heavy fighting in and around Damascus has left at least 40 dead and countless injured, according to state media and many observers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least four children were among 35 people killed in nearly 40 air raids on Thursday in a Damascus province. At least five more were killed in a number of heavy mortar attacks in the Syrian capital. According to some reports, these latest strikes are in retaliation for the recent attacks in the town of Douma, which is near Damascus.
The strikes in the city were apparently started by Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) after their leader, Zahran Alloush, said his group now considered Damascus a “military zone.” The rebel group, which follows Islamist doctrine and has reportedly received support from Saudi Arabia in the past, was behind a series of rocket attacks on the Syrian capital in January, which killed seven people. Army of Islam was formed by a merger of rebel factions in 2013, and it follows a strict Islamist doctrine.
According to Syria’s state news agency, SANA, five people have been killed in what it said was a bombardment by “takfiri terrorists,” “takfiri” being a term used to describe hardline Sunni groups who consider other people infidels. The head of a school in Damascus told the AFP news agency that she was forced to escort pupils into a bomb shelter because of the strikes, while state television said that three missiles struck near the Old City’s Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest in the world.
The Syrian civil war has escalated dramatically, having begun following initially peaceful protests four years ago against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power since succeeding his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000. So far, many of the attacks have been centred around Damascus.
United Nations figures show that over 220,000 people have been killed in the four-year conflict, which has seen the rapid emergence of numerous heavily-armed jihadist groups within Syria, including Army of Islam, Islamic State (IS), and al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front.
Over the past four years, the Syrian government has carried out innumerable air strikes on rebel-held territory throughout the conflict, and has been accused by human rights organizations of killing thousands of innocent civilians in the process. Many of these strikes are what caused militant rebel groups to form and launch many attacks, and tougher and tougher government crackdown has led many of these groups to join up and pool their resources in order to have some sort of chance at success.
[Image via BBC World News]