BEIRUT: Regime warplanes Thursday launched 25 air raids Thursday on the southeast Damascus suburb of Mliha, a key rebel bastion President Bashar Assad’s regime has struggled for weeks to recapture, activists and an anti-regime monitoring group said.
Regime ground forces also targeted the Mliha area with nine surface-to-surface missiles, as troops backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah battled rebel groups and their jihadist Nusra Front allies, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Assad regime in late spring began a bid to retake Mliha, which is strategically located near the airport road and in the besieged rebel region of eastern Ghouta.
No information was immediately available about casualties.
Elsewhere, activists in the rebel-held Al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood in southern Damascus accused the regime of cutting off water supplies for more than two weeks.
“Some 20,000 people live here, mostly women and children. The regime wants to pressure civilians into forcing rebels to sign a truce with the army,” activist Rami al-Sayed told AFP.
“People are suffering from inflammations and digestive system diseases because they are drinking dirty water from wells,” he added.
Rights groups have frequently accused both sides in the conflict, especially the regime, of using illegal siege tactics as a weapon of war.
In Aleppo, fierce clashes erupted south of the city, as a coalition of rebel groups declared an offensive to respond to recent gains in the area by regime troops and paramilitary allies.
The Observatory said that seven rebels were killed in the fighting, while battles raged in the city of Aleppo and on its northern outskirts.
Regime airstrikes also pounded a number of rebel-held towns in northern Aleppo province.
In Homs, a car bomb killed three people and wounded nine others in an Alawite-majority neighborhood of the city, state television said.
“Three people were killed and nine wounded, including women and children, in a terrorist car bomb attack in the Akrama district of Homs,” the broadcaster said.
The attack is the second of its kind in a week, and comes just over a month after rebels lost their bastion in the heart of Homs city to regime control.
The Observatory said at least six people were killed in the attack, though it had no information on who might have been behind the blast. The casualty figure was expected to rise because a number of people were seriously wounded, it added.
Homs was dubbed “the capital of the revolution” against President Bashar Assad. Most of the city, except the battered district of Waer, has returned to regime control after two years of bombardment and siege.
On another front, an armed group allied with the Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS Wednesday kidnapped two rebel commanders in Deir al-Zor province.
While rebels seeking Assad’s ouster initially welcomed ISIS among their ranks, the jihadists’ systematic abuses turned the opposition against them. Rebels and Islamists have fought ISIS since January, pushing them out of large areas of the north.
ISIS remains squarely in control of the city of Raqqa, and is seeking to expand its influence in neighboring oil-rich Deir al-Zor province. It already controls many of the province’s energy fields.
The Observatory said ISIS and its rivals were in the process of negotiations to allow a “neutral” rebel group to take over control of an ISIS-manned checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, if ISIS withdraws while the Nusra Front abandons a nearby checkpoint in return.
The negotiations are aimed at trying to secure the entry of humanitarian relief to Deir al-Zor, which has been subjected to a siege by ISIS militants. Rebel groups control much of the city, while a regime post on the outskirts regularly targets rebel locations in Deir al-Zor.