Rebels cut Damascus-Homs highway

The Army of Islam has launched a wide-scale offensive outside the Dahiyet al-Assad suburb of the capital.

Damascus-Homs highway. (AFP)

BEIRUT – The Army of Islam has cut the key M5 highway leading from Damascus toward Homs in the northeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital in an operation the rebel group said involved thousands of fighters.


Pro-Syrian regime outlets reported that heavy fighting near the regime-controlled Dahiyet al-Assad suburb of Damascus has forced the closure of the motorway, which provides a key lifeline into the capital from the coast via Homs.


Al-Khabar TV said Monday that “military operations in the area around Dahiyet al-Assad north of the capital are ongoing for the third day running.”

“The Damascus-Homs international highway remains closed on both sides from the town of Harasta,” the pro-regime outlet added.


A Facebook news page supportive of the Bashar al-Assad government also reported Monday morning that “the Damascus International Highway has been cut in Harasta due to the fierce clashes currently underway between the men of the Syrian Arab Army and Eastern Ghouta's terrorists in the area around Dahiyet al-Assad.”


Despite the prevalence of reports of the highway’s cutting—including on a number of opposition news outlets—Syria’s official state media has yet to make any mention of it.


The Army of Islam, in turn, touted its offensive in northern Damascus with a bombastic statement Saturday in which the group claimed thousands of its fighters were taking part in an operation to seize government positions “in the mountainous military area which besieges Damascus Ghouta.”


“The Army of Islam has launched the ‘Allah is Predominant’ battle in the mountain chain [overlooking] Eastern Ghouta after one and a half years of scouting, digging tunnels and training thousands of mujahideen to fight in barren areas,” the group announced.


Dahiyet al-Assad fighting


The Army of Islam’s ‘Allah is Predominant’ offensive has focused on both the Dahiyet al-Assad suburb as well as the town of Adra further to the east along the strategic M5 motorway.


Shelling against Dahiyet al-Assad began on Friday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that dozens of mortars have struck the regime-controlled area over the weekend.


On Monday, the monitoring NGO said that “fierce clashes are ongoing between regime forces and pro-regime militants on one side and Islamist factions on the other in the area around Dahiyet al-Assad near the town of Harasta.”


“This has been accompanied by heavy shelling by regime forces on the combat zones and around 30 shells have struck areas in Dahiyet al-Assad, causing material damage.”


Pro-government Facebook pages based in the suburb have also admitted that fighting has raged nearby amid a worsening security situation.


The “Dahiyet al-Assad News Network” Facebook group said on Sunday morning that “National Defense Forces are eliminating a number of individuals from terrorist groups infiltrating the outskirts” of the area.


On the same day, the page reported that “schools are [closed] until further notice to preserve the safety of the students.”


A day earlier, the page claimed that “Dahiyet is totally safe and Dahiyet has men to defend it.”


“We have said time and time again: There is no call for concern, God’s men are keeping watch.”


Meanwhile, a Facebook page called “Dahiyet al-Assad in Harasta: The Municipal Council” wrote on Saturday that NDF militiamen in the suburb were working to protect homes of locals after “undisciplined elements” had looted a number of residences.


Al-Jazeera reported that the regime had ordered a number of Dahiyet al-Assad residents near the M5 highway to leave their homes on Friday, after which looting broke out, raising the ire of locals.


None of the Facebook groups active in Dahiyet al-Assad have posted any news since Sunday; however, one pro-regime outlet published a report giving the impression that daily life was continuing as usual.


“Today, Rif Dimashq Governor Hussein Makhlouf inspected the condition of [public] services in Harasta’s Dahiyet al-Assad,” Syrian Days reported on Sunday evening.


According to the report, Makhlouf “heard… the requests and difficulties suffered by some citizens” during a meeting with members of the local council and residents of the town.


“Makhlouf carried out an inspection tour of the backup mechanical bakery and was briefed on the progress of production with regard to quality.”


“He was also briefed on… the availability of water and its delivery according to the applied program,” the report added.


Damascus-Homs highway. (AFP)

The Damascus-Homs international highway remains closed on both sides from the town of Harasta.