In a series of lightning strikes, the Syrian army’s 4th Division-Republican Guard was able to drive most of the rebels out of the eastern suburbs of Damascus Monday, April 8, debkafile’s military sources report.
The division’s armored units cornered the rebel forces which had massed in the Ghouta suburb ready to take the center of Damascus. Few will survive the merciless pounding by the Syrian tanks and artillery. In two other eastern suburbs, Daria and the Sayida Zainab, the rebels were surprised while preparing to storm the international airport and made a panicky rush for the exits when they saw the Syrian forces driving toward them.
By this operation, Bashar Assad, aided by his brother Maher at the head of the 4th Division, were able to surprise the rebel forces in time to curtail their advance from the eastern suburbs on the center of Damascus and seat of government.
Syria’s rulers owe this landmark success to the speed of their operation and the positioning of tanks and heavy artillery in the vanguard to lay down a hellish carpet of fire as they moved.
This tactic was almost certainly designed by Assad’s foreign military advisers, either Iranian or Russian, as the largest-scale military operation to be seen on the battlefield in Syria’s two-year uprising-turned-civil war.
The rebels fought back Monday with a suicide car bomb attack in the Sabaa Bahrat Square of central Damascus. At least 15 people were killed, many others injured and heavy damage caused dozens of cars and buildings. Although it was one of the most powerful explosions the war has seen, it did not slow the 4th division’s relentless advance on rebel positions.
The Syrian army’s victory pivots the war into a new phase by sharply reversing its low state just last Wednesday, April 3 when, in desperation, an unnamed officer warned the rebels and their leaders of “certain death” if they continued to advance on Damascus.
This was interpreted as a threat of chemical warfare as a last resort after the 4th and 3rd divisions had failed to halt the rebel drive into the capital.
The message set alarm bells ringing in Washington, Jerusalem and Amman, who feared the use of chemical weapons was imminent.
This threat receded Monday with the Assad’s army’s success in repelling the rebel advance into the heart of Damascus. From this defeat, the rebels will need time to recover and regroup before they are in any shape to launch another onslaught on Assad’s center of government.
The Syrian army’s Damascus operation was prepared a day in advance by extensive air force strikes Sunday on seven rebel-held downs in the South along the Israeli and Jordanian borders. They left at least 20 dead, scores of people injured and heavy damage to many buildings. Rebels under air attack in those towns found text messages on their cell phones saying, “The Syrian army is coming to get you.”
The air assault kept the rebels from seizing border posts on the Israeli and Jordanian frontiers, which are still held by Syrian troops. They are also being chased out of their former strongholds in the capital by Assad’s tanks and artillery.