Airstrikes Hit Damascus Area for First Time in Weeks

BEIRUT (Reuters) —

Air strikes hit rebel-held districts east of Damascus on Thursday for the first time in weeks after shells landed in parts of the capital controlled by the Syrian government, a Reuters witness and a war monitor said.

Fighting and bombardment around Damascus have eased significantly since Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed a deal for “de-escalation zones” around Syria in an April meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Fighting since then has mostly focused on Syria’s sprawling desert in the center and east of the country, where warring sides are racing to capture territory from Islamic State.

However, strikes on Thursday targeted the Eastern Ghouta oasis area of farms and towns outside Damascus after at least two shells hit the capital’s Qassaa district, the Reuters witness said.

The war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rocket and the Syrian army also bombarded the Jobar district in eastern Damascus.

The next round of talks in Astana is likely to be held in early July, Russian media have quoted a senior official as saying. More substantive peace talks in Geneva could resume after that.

After six years of war between President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to oust him, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and more than half the country’s pre-war population made homeless.

Syria’s army has made several advances since the Astana de-escalation zones were agreed against Islamic State, including in oil-rich desert areas in recent days.

On Wednesday, a Syrian military source said the army had taken control over Arak oil field and pumping station east of Palmyra, part of its offensive to relieve an enclave in Deir al-Zor that is besieged by the jihadist group.

On Thursday, a military media unit run by the government’s ally Hezbollah reported that the army had captured the Thawra oil field south of Tabqa in northern Syria.

Syrian oil fields have been an important source of revenue for Islamic State. Their loss to Damascus has made it more difficult for the government to produce electricity.

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