CONFLICT: Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham brigade fire back at the Syrian army during heavy fighting in Damascus at the end of January. Picture: REUTERS
CONFLICT: Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham brigade fire back at the Syrian army during heavy fighting in Damascus at the end of January. Picture: REUTERS

AMMAN — President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bombarded the southeast of Damascus with air strikes and artillery on Wednesday to dislodge rebel fighters who have gained a foothold in the Syrian capital, opposition activists said.

A Middle East diplomat described battles in and around Damascus as a "major engagement", with fighting going back and forth between the two sides.

Jets bombed Jobar, a district adjacent to the main Abbasid Square, and the suburb of Daraya on the highway to Jordan to the south, sources in the capital said. The two areas are part of interconnected Sunni Muslim districts in and around Damascus that have been at the forefront of the 22-month uprising against four decades of family rule by Mr Assad and his father.

Syrian rebels said on Wednesday they planned to form their first air squadron after taking control of a strategic air base north of the city of Aleppo this week. Air force defectors had agreed to fly the jets, they said.

Syria’s former foreign ministry spokesman said in an undisclosed location on Wednesday that he left the country last year because the country was "a battleground". But he denied reports that he fled to the US or Europe.

Jihad Makdissi, who for many months was the international face of Mr Assad’s government, left Syria in late November.

Mr Makdissi said he was living with "honourable brothers who are helping the Syrian people get through their humanitarian crisis". He gave no details.

Reuters