Skip to main content

'Everything is broken:' Syrian army retakes Damascus suburb at heavy cost

By Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
updated 12:19 PM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reclaiming southern, eastern suburbs of Damascus from rebels is Syrian regime priority
  • Syrian troops retook Sbeineh from opposition fighters after brutal siege in November
  • Government says Sbeineh was key supply line to other suburbs for opposition troops

Sbeineh, Syria (CNN) -- Sbeineh was once a thriving town on the southern outskirts of Damascus. Residents of the Syrian capital came to buy their furniture here and many factories, now abandoned, still line the main street into town.

But the grinding, two-and-a-half-year war here has reduced Sbeineh to rubble. Its residents first fled when the town fell into the hands of rebels battling to bring an end to the reign of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But in early November the Syrian army reclaimed Sbeineh after a long and costly siege.

The military pounded rebel positions with tanks, artillery and heavy machine guns for weeks in the lead-up to the siege. Assad's men then raided the town, taking it back house by house. Various opposition groups that had occupied Sbeineh blamed each other for losing the battle, saying some rebel fighters had put up very little resistance against government troops.

Syrian troops patrol the deserted streets of Sbeineh, south of Damascus, on November 8 after retaking the suburb from rebel forces. Syrian troops patrol the deserted streets of Sbeineh, south of Damascus, on November 8 after retaking the suburb from rebel forces.
Syrian troops retake Sbeineh after siege
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
Syrian troops retake Sbeineh after siege Syrian troops retake Sbeineh after siege

We toured the destroyed town with a detachment from the Syrian army led by a soldier who goes by the name of Abu Aksam.

"Is this their freedom?" Abu Aksam said, walking past a pock-marked building. "Everything is broken."

The soldiers walked us through a block of interconnected houses, where the rebels who occupied Sbeineh for nearly a year punched holes through the walls in order to move safely from apartment to apartment, rather than fall prey to a sniper's scope out in the streets.

Government soldiers also uncovered a series of tunnels that the rebels were using to get supplies towards the front line. In one apartment we find a huge hole in the ground leading down to a tunnel used to smuggle weapons and ammunition to a sniper's vantage point at the other end.

Inside the battle for Damascus
Syrian children living with war
Bulgaria: Coping with Syrian refugees

"Our soldiers took heavy casualties from this position," Abu Aksam said. "It was very difficult to get this done, but we did it, and we will keep going until the end because we believe in our country."

Syrian troops showed us various locations in Sbeineh they claim served as headquarters for rebel groups ranging from the moderate Free Syrian Army to the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra. Aksam also took us to a room that he says served as weapons-manufacturing workshop for opposition fighters. Aksam says rebels used these improvised mini-factories to make mortars, rockets and improvised bombs.

"They used the tools to make mortars and rockets and used gas cylinders to make very large bombs," he said, standing amid the debris inside the room.

The government says Sbeineh was vital for resupplying its fighters in the southern outskirts of Damascus. Losing areas around the capital dealt a heavy blow to the Syrian regime's efforts to win the war, and the government has made it a priority to take the suburbs back.

The Syrian army's victory at Sbeineh was a strategic triumph for the government as it tries to unseat rebels from the large swaths of territory they've taken east and south of the capital. But while the soldiers rejoice at their hard-fought win, the real losers are the citizens of this once vibrant suburb who won't be able to return any time soon.

Read more: Front line battles take Syria's suburbs back to 'stone age'

Read more: Suicide bombing in central Damascus kills four

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
updated 12:40 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 11:35 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT