Clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on March 19 after rebels and jihadists launched a surprise assault on government forces there, a monitor and state television said, France24 reported. Rebels and allied jihadists — led by al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra), which merged with several other rebel groups in January to become Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — attacked government positions in the Jobar district and advanced into the neighboring Abbasid Square area. There was no immediate information on casualties. Government forces have long sought to push the rebels out of the district because of its proximity to the city center in Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said rebels had launched the attack as a way to relieve allied fighters in the nearby districts of Barzeh, Tishreen, and Qabun from government advances. Al Qaeda in Syria has emerged as the most effective rebel faction in Syria's civil war, but its efforts to keep a low profile will become more difficult as the group takes on a central role in the fight.