After weeks of apparent stalemate in its Qalamoun offensive, President Assad’s forces won a notable victory this weekend with the capture of Yabroud, the largest city between Damascus and the Lebanese border.
Syrian troops and Hezbollah broke through at the end of last week, taking farms and hills overlooking the city of 60,000 people before moving into the center on Saturday.
The Syrian military will now seek to cut off insurgents in southern and central Syria from Lebanon, while opposition fighters will try to maintain their challenge from Qalamoun’s mountains and countryside.
The success dramatically overtook setbacks for the regime such as the loss of its positions in sugar mills near Adra, 30 miles to the south of Yabroud.
Elsewhere, there was no notable shift in the frontlines between the Syrian military and insurgents, such as areas in and near Aleppo. However, the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham withdrew from remaining positions in Idlib and Latakia Provinces to concentrate its fighters — 2 1/2 months after the start of battles with insurgents — in Aleppo and Raqqa, the largest city outside regime control.
Politically, Damascus pursued the line of legitimacy through the Presidential election in the spring, with daily declarations of mass rallies for the regime and Assad making a photo-opportunity visit to displaced people in Damascus Province.
Insurgents tried to ease American restrictions on supplies and weapons, putting forward Jamal Maarouf of the Syrian Revolutionary Front as the “moderate”, progressive face of the fight against Assad.
Victory in Yabroud is a significant boost to the Assad regime. In military terms, the effect may be overstated, especially if Syrian forces cannot cut off support and supplies to insurgents outside towns and cities, and the regime has still to make progress in northern Syria.
Politically, however, Damascus will use Yabroud to advance its narrative of “Assad is Winning”, both at home and for international media. This will reinforce its campaign for confirmation of President Assad’s stay in power — and thus the defeat of “terrorists” — in the show of elections this spring.
Insurgents will not ease their challenge to the regime because of Yabroud but their operations continue to be hindered by issues of coordiation; by refusal of international actors, notably the US, to provide meaningful support; by tension between backers, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar; and by the political retreat of others such as Turkey.
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