'Intense' strikes pound east Damascus after rebel assault: monitor

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Smoke billows following a reported air strike in the rebel-held parts of Jobar district, on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, on March 19, 2017

Heavy air strikes pounded rebel positions in east Damascus on Monday, a monitoring group said, as Syrian government forces pushed back a rebel assault.

"There have been intense air strikes since dawn on opposition-held positions in Jobar from which the offensive was launched," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday's assault," he added.

Rebels and allied jihadists, led by former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, launched an attack early Sunday on government positions in the eastern district of Jobar before advancing into the neighbouring Abbasid Square area.

It was the first time rebels had penetrated the Abbasid Square neighbourhood in two years, but government forces had forced them back by nightfall.

AFP correspondents in eastern Damascus could hear warplanes circling above the city on Monday morning and said activity in Abbasid Square was returning to normal levels.

Abdel Rahman did not have an immediate toll for Monday's strikes and could not specify whether the raids were carried out by Syrian government warplanes or allied Russian aircraft.