The week was marked by the contrast between the regime’s deadly bombings, especially in and near Aleppo, and insurgent victories in Aleppo and near Damascus.
The Syrian military’s airstrikes, which escalated on December 14, have killed more than 300 people, almost all of them civilians.
There is still no clear motive for the surge, although it may be in response to insurgent pressure on regime positions in and near Aleppo.
On Friday, the insurgents captured the Kindi headquarters and barracks in Aleppo, after a protracted siege of the former hospital.
Truck bomb hitting Kindi barracks just before it fell to insurgents:
To the south and east, opposition fighters appear to be moving towards Safira, the “gateway” city which was taken in November by Syrian forces.
In the south, insurgents have launched Phase 2 of their offensive in East Ghouta, near Damascus. They are hoping to build on claimed Phase 1 successes, including the breaking of checkpoints enforcing a siege on opposition-held territory, capture of at least two towns, killing of hundreds of regime troops, and seizure of weapons and equipment.
Because of the insurgency’s media blackout, information is still limited about the current state of the offensive.
Meanwhile, the long-running effort for an international “peace” conference hit a further obstacle on Friday, as the US vetoed the presence of Syria’s ally Iran.
Key groups in the opposition and insurgency have reiterated that they will not attend the conference, projected for January 22 in Switzerland, unless President Assad leaves power. The Islamic Front bloc of leading insurgent groups snubbed US envoy Robert Ford when he tried to meet them in Turkey.
All sides tried to put their cases in international media this week. Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi spoke with a supportive Lebanese newspaper, the heads of the insurgent factions Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham gave their first interviews, and Saudi Arabia warned the US — whose officials were putting out signals of accepting President Assad’s stay in power — that it would “go it alone” in support of the opposition and insurgency.
Russia tried to hold a firm line behind Assad, saying that “all Syrian patriots must unite to fight against the Islamic Front, jihadists, and Al Qa’eda”.
The Assad regime, which only a month ago were celebrating victories south of Damascus and east of Aleppo and proclaiming its Qalamoun offensive to clear the insurgents between the capital and the Lebanese border, now appears under pressure both near Aleppo and Damascus.
Even with caution over insurgent propaganda, the massive “press release” of videos this week points to significant success for the opposition against the regime’s siege in East Ghouta, That will lead to more supplies for further operations.
In Aleppo, the capture of the Kindi barracks — dramatically recorded on film — does not break the 17-month stalemate. However, it is a setback to any regime claims of authority beyond its section of Syria’s largest city, and it could provide momentum for more insurgent attacks.
The months-long siege on the regime-held areas may also be tightening again, which could explain the escalation in bombings whose victims are civilians rather than fighters.
There is still no prospect for a meaningful “peace” conference in Switzerland in January. Instead, the US could face the choice of whether it will detach itself fully from the insurgency by accepting President Assad’s retention of power — a prospect that had Washington both sending out signals and shrouding itself in indecision this week.
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