Damascus/Beirut: Rocket attacks killed five people in Damascus and wounded at least 35 on Thursday, the state news agency SANA said, in what appeared to be the second heavy bombardment by Islam Army insurgents in less than two weeks.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that monitors violence in Syria said the army responded with at least 40 air strikes on several areas in the Eastern Ghouta district, where Islam Army is based, and 35 people were killed.
Shells thought to have been fired from the east of the capital could be heard exploding in the city, a witness said.
Islam Army said it was behind the attacks.
A message on a Twitter account thought to belong to Islam Army chief Zahran Alloush said the attack was a taste of what the Syrian military had done to Ghouta. He described Damascus as a "military zone" in a statement earlier this week, and said his group would respond to air force strikes.
SANA said only that "infidel terrorists" carried out the bombardment. It showed a photograph of a blackened car with its trunk blown off. State television said three missiles hit areas around the Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest in the world, located in the capital`s Old City.
An estimated 200,000 people have been killed since 2011 in Syria`s civil war, which pits the government of President Bashar al-Assad against a range of groups including mainstream rebels, Islamist brigades and hardline jihadists like Islamic State and al Qaeda`s Nusra Front. U.S-led forces are bombarding Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.
A witness in Damascus on Thursday heard more than 30 bombardments in quick succession. Local radio Sham FM said the projectiles had hit at least five areas of the capital. People posted images on social media said to show plumes of smoke rising above the city.
Insurgents and the Syrian military are battling for control of eastern areas close to Damascus, and the air force has carried out regular bombardments there.
Formed by a merger of rebel factions in 2013, Islam Army follows an Islamist doctrine and has received backing in the past from Saudi Arabia. Its leader said on Tuesday it would target the Syrian capital, which is under government control.
On Thursday the Syrian air force struck areas northeast of Damascus including the city of Douma and town of Arbin, killing 35 people and wounding around 140, the Observatory said. A video posted by the media arm of rebel fighters in the south showed huge clouds of smoke rising between buildings in what a voiceover said was Douma.
Islam Army also struck with at least 38 rockets on Jan. 25, killing seven people, the Observatory said, in one of the heaviest attacks on the city in over a year.
On Sunday, a bomb claimed by al Qaeda`s Nusra Front tore apart a bus carrying Lebanese Shi`ite Muslim pilgrims in Damascus.