A large chunk of Syria's capital, Damascus, which has been bombed so many times in Syrian Army airstrikes it looks like Swiss cheese, was taken over earlier this year by Islamic State (Nusra Front also has a big presence in the city.) But now the army has launched a serious ground assault -- and without Russian air cover on account of the Russians don't want to bomb heavily populated areas so as not to upset the International Community.
The Russian correspondent (or his English translator) embedded with the army might have been so excited by yesterday's victory he spelled Harasta as "Haras" a few times in his report, if they're not two different suburbs. Anyhow it's a victory for Syria's Army and one more step to clearing IS and Nusra from the city, which is going to work out to house-to-house combat.
The caution is this Associated Press report from April 15, 2013: Syrian Troops Capture Strategic Town Otaybah In Major Blow To Rebels:
After five weeks of battle, Syrian government troops captured a strategic town near Damascus, cutting an arms route for rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad's regime, state media and activists said Thursday.
By taking the town of Otaybah, east of the capital, the army dealt a major setback to opposition forces that in recent months have made gains near the city they eventually hope to storm. [...]Onward:
A RIA Novosti correspondent reports on the Syrian army's combat activity in the northern part of Harasta.
HARASTA. Syria (Sputnik) — A week ago the Syrian Armed Forces launched a large-scale military operation to liberate the towns of Duma, Jobar and Harasta located eastward of Damascus that had been occupied by the terrorist groups for some three years.
A RIA Novosti correspondent became the witness of Syrian army's combat activity in the northern part of Harasta.
It was almost impossible to get to the assault position from Damascus, so we moved through an industrial area covered with the portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the leader of Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah.
Shortly before arriving to the line of contact with terrorists, an escorting officer proposed us to put on the armor vest, because we arrived “to the war.” It was surprising that civilians continued living near the army's disposition as if nothing had happened.
After a short briefing, the officers moved to the unit’s lines to give the orders to their soldiers. We moved forward under heavy fire to the building on the frontline with a group of mortarmen to specify the positions for the mortars.
After the deployment of mortars, the officer gave me a night vision device to look over the battlefield. As a result I could see that dense fire and bombs falling on the terrorists’ positions prevented enemies from serious retaliatory strike. During the battle, groups of soldiers from both sides started moving [forward] under cover of darkness and clashed in a close combat.
FLAG OVER HARAS
The active phase of the battle was finished at 4 a.m. local time and the soldiers returned to headquarters. The next stage of the operation was scheduled on the morning and all the tired warriors could sleep for a while.
"Friend, you should get up. It will be a bit noisy, we have to go to the commander. You should see it,” Capt. Hassan said wakening me.
After arriving to the commander’s position we were invited by a general to look how the Syrian warriors would plant a flag on the strategic Haras high ground. Haras controls both the road from Damascus and the towns of Jobar and Harasta.
“Our strategy is quiet [sic] easy. The enemy is hiding in the tunnels firing at us from the mortars and machine guns. Our soldiers conduct special operations on the enemy positions in a small groups. They mop up the enemy’s firing-posts and take control over the tunnels’ entrances. We support them with artillery and tanks,” the operation’s commander, Gen. Mahmoud, said, describing the army's strategy.
The soldiers that returned to the base reported about dozens of killed militants and only about a few wounded Syrian soldiers and militias during this operation.