Rif Dimashq offensive (February 2018–present)

Rif Dimashq offensive (February 2018–present)
Part of the Rif Dimashq Governorate campaign ( Syrian Civil War), the Siege of eastern Ghouta and the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War
Rif Damashq.svg
Situation as of 16 March 2018
Date 18 February 2018 [8]ongoing
(1 month and 5 days)
Location Eastern Ghouta, Rif Dimashq Governorate, Syria


  • Syrian army captures 83% of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta pocket [9] and divides it into three separate pockets [10]


Allied militias:
Emblem of Liwa Al-Quds.svg Liwa al-Quds [1]
Emblem of the Palestine Liberation Army.svg Palestine Liberation Army [2]
Arab Nationalist Guard [2]
Liwa Fatemiyoun [4]
Liwa Zainebiyoun [5]

SSNP [6]
Jaysh al-Islam
Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Al-Rahman Legion
Ahrar al-Sham
Tahrir al-Sham [7]
Commanders and leaders
Maj. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan
(Tiger Forces) [11]
Col. Ghiath Dalla
(42nd Armored Brigade)

Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Capt. Abdul Nasr Shamir
(al-Rahman Legion commander in chief) [12]

Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Abu Ali Dhiya al-Shaghouri 
(al-Rahman Legion chief of staff) [13]
Units involved

Syrian Army

National Defence Forces [2]
Syrian Air Force
Eagles of the Whirlwind
Russian Armed Forces

Jaysh al-Islam

  • Military Council of Damascus and its Suburbs

Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg Al-Rahman Legion

  • Al-Bara Brigade
  • Glory Brigades
    • Abu Musa al-Shari Brigade
  • Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (Eastern Ghouta branch)
    • Al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigade
  • 101st Battalion

Ahrar al-Sham

  • Fajr al-Umma Brigade

15,000+ [15]

  • Emblem of Liwa Al-Quds.svg Liwa al-Quds: 2,000+ [1]

20,000 [21]

  • 10,000
  • Al-Rahman Corps calligraphy.jpg 8,000
  • 600
Casualties and losses
292 killed, [22]
2 captured [23]
2 killed [24]
235 killed [22]
1,652 civilians killed (per SOHR; Eastern Ghouta & Damascus) [25] [26]

The Rif Dimashq offensive (February 2018–present), code-named Operation Damascus Steel, [27] is a military offensive launched by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in February 2018 in a bid to capture the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb. [8] [28] East Ghouta, a pocket of towns and farms, has been under government siege since 2013 and has been a major rebel stronghold in the vicinity of the capital of Damascus. According to the United Nations, nearly 400,000 people live in East Ghouta. [29]

The Associated Press reported that the potential capture of the whole rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave would represent one of the most significant victories for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in the civil war and the worst setback for the rebels since their defeat in the Battle of Aleppo in late 2016. [30] Similarly, Reuters stated the capture of Eastern Ghouta would represent the biggest prize for president al-Assad since the recapture of all of Aleppo. [31]

These actions have drawn widespread international condemnation, with the United Nations human rights chief charging the Syrian regime and its foreign allies of planning their next "apocalypse". [32] On March 16, 2018, between 12,000 and 13,000 people fled Eastern Ghouta, in what is reported as the largest one-day exodus in the country's seven-year war. [33]


Jaysh al-Islam (fighters of the group pictured) is the most powerful rebel faction of the Siege of Eastern Ghouta.

With most of the suburbs of Damascus recaptured by the Syrian government by February 2018, there remained a significant swathe of the countryside near the capital city captured by jihadists from the rebels in 2012 that had been under siege by pro-government forces since 2013. [34]

Syrian forces began bombarding and shelling the area in early February after Russian-brokered peace talks failed, killing 200 by 8 February, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [35] They again started bombarding it on 18 February, and did so for eight consecutive days before beginning the ground offensive. [36]

The main rebel faction in the area was Jaysh al-Islam, based in Douma (with an estimated 10–15,000 fighters in the region in early 2018 [37]). The second largest was Faylaq al-Rahman, an official affiliate of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), controlling much of central and western parts of Ghouta, including the Jobar and Ain Terma districts. [38] In addition, Ahrar al-Sham (based in Harasta) and Tahrir al-Sham (HTS – controlling smaller districts such as Arbin, Hawsh Al-Ash'ari and Bait Naim, with an estimated strength in the area of 500 in February 2018 [39]) had a far smaller presence. [36] [38] [40]