DAMASCUS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The capital Damascus has returned under the spotlight on Sunday with the rebels launching a large-scale offensive led by the the al-Qaida-linked militants against Syrian army positions and residential areas in the eastern part of the city.
Sunday's offensive began at 5:00 am when the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and allied militant groups sent three suicide car bombs, targeting military positions at the outskirts of the rebel-held Jobar neighborhood in the eastern Ghouta countryside of Damascus.
The first suicide car bomb was driven by a Saudi man called Abu Obaida al-Jazrawi, who managed to detonate his car at a military post. The second car was ridden by a Syrian called Abu Faruq al-Qalamouni, but the army targeted the car and detonated it.
The bombing sounds rattled the capital's residents and woke them up to the violent battles that ensued.
The rebels unleashed their attacks from Jobar on military positions from two directions; the first on the Maysaloun checkpoint at the entrance of Jobar, where they detonated the first car, and failed to detonate the other that was targeted by the army.
The second was from Jobar on the government forces' positions at the outskirts of the rebel-held neighborhood of Qaboun, where they detonated a car bomb, after which a number of rebels succeeded to infiltrate toward Syrian army positions.
The rebels captured several buildings that government forces were controlling on the frontline between Jobar and the government-controlled areas in Abbasiyeen area.
Residents in Abbasiyeen and the nearby areas of Tijara, Bab Touma, Qassa, Halab Street, and Fares Khouri Street, said the Syrian soldiers fanned out in the streets, which are close to the battle lines to repel the rebel offensive.
A man from Fares Khouri told Xinhua the street was apparently exposed to the rebel sniper fire, adding that the Syrian soldiers were deploying quickly to contain the offensive.
Residents in Tijara remained in their homes, and couldn't leave due to the intensity of battles, which were coupled with heavy mortar shelling, and explosive bullets coming from the rebel side.
Amal, a Syrian lawyer, told Xinhua that the soldiers asked them to stay indoor for their safety.
The Syrian elite forces of the Fourth Division and the Republican Guards sent reinforcements to help in foiling the offensive, which was coupled with a huge media campaign from the rebel side, which claimed control of areas in eastern Damascus, including the Abassyieen bus station.
The state media denied the claims, and so did military sources told Xinhua.
The Syrian warplanes also took part in striking the rebel positions, and the ground forces unleashed a counter offensive to recapture the buildings that have been captured by the rebels during their offensive.
A military source told Xinhua that the Syrian army repelled the attack on eastern Damascus, adding that the government forces succeeded to recapture a number of building that fell to the rebels earlier in the day amid an ongoing counter offensive to fully drive out the rebels from areas they infiltrated.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said intense battles are still ongoing as part of the Syrian army's counter offensive in the areas that are between the rebel-held areas in eastern Ghouta countryside and the government-controlled areas in the western part of the capital.
Before midnight, cautious calm prevailed Damascus, amid sporadic shelling heard every now and then.
The rebels in the Eastern Ghouta area had launched several attacks and infiltration attempts toward the eastern parts of the capital in the years between 2012 and 2014, and the capital remained largely afterwards, until Sunday's attack, which is said to have aimed to break the government forces' siege on Qaboun, where the Nusra Front is a leading rebel group.
It's worth mentioning that the Nusra Front is designated as a terrorist group by the UN, and thus excluded from any settlement.
The group recently changed its name to the Front for Conquering the Levant, after it alleged to have cut ties with the al-Qaida.
The group was responsible for deadly bombings that recently took place in Damascus, and the central city of Homs where tens of people lost of their lives.