The past week brought further evidence that, despite its claim of imminent victory, the Assad regime is resorting to chemical weapons attacks in areas across Syria.
Activists have claimed that the Syrian military has been using chemical toxins, notably chlorine gas, in attacks since late March near Damascus and in Hama and Idlib Provinces.
The most significant attack — in evidence and casualties — was on Kafrzita in Hama Province on April 11, killing at least three people and wounding 200. Since then, videos and witnesses have testified to the use of chlorine gas cylinders, dropped inside barrel bombs, on Kafrzita and al-Tameneh in Hama Province and Talmenes in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
The Syrian military also escalated barrel-bombing, including of Aleppo where scores of civilians were killed.
While claiming victory in its Qalamoun offensive, the regime has been under pressure in other areas of Syria, notably in and near Aleppo. Insurgents continued to advance on Syria’s largest city from the northwest and south and attacked military positions in the center, including the Hanano base and the Aleppo Citadel.
Opposition forces also continued to make gains in the southwest and to hold off a regime offensive near Damascus, with heavy fighting in Mleha and Jobar. The Syrian military tried to push insurgents out of Homs with bombardment and a ground offensive, but have had limited if any success so far.
Politically, the Assad regime made its move for legitimacy with the announcement that the Presidential election will be on June 3. The declaration followed a weekend PR offensive, with President Assad visiting the “liberated” Christian town of Maaloula, reclaimed last week from insurgents after a four-month occupation.
While the conflict continues to be a grinding stalemate — in which each side claims victories but also faces pressure on its positions — the Assad regime’s escalation of chemical warfare and barrel-bombing indicates nervousness over its military situation, particularly in Aleppo and Syria’s northwest.
The situation is unlikely to change soon. Insurgents are seeking to cut off regime forces in the western half of Aleppo, rather than forcing a decisive breakthrough. An increase in foreign supplies, including signs of limited provision of US-made anti-tank missiles, will boost opposition morale; however, the shift will not make a strategic difference in the near-future.
Meanwhile, the Assad regime will have to maintain the illusion of “victory” — bolstered by successes such as the reclaiming of Maaloula — through support for President Assad as he goes through the motions for his June victory.
The international community is unlikely to make any significant moves for the time being. The US has belatedly expressed concern about the chemical weapons attacks, but is indicating that it will take no action by refraining from blame of Assad. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among other foreign backers, are continuing support of the Syrian insurgency but any major change in the conflict demands far more intervention. Russia and Iran continue their political, military, and propaganda support for Assad.
Special: How Chechen Foreign Fighters Wound Up Fighting Each Other
At Least 20 US-Made Anti-Tank Missiles in Hands of Insurgents — More to Come?
Video Analysis: A Turning Point in The Battle for Aleppo?
Video Analysis: Who’s Winning? — The Story of 2 Competing Offensives
Regime Chemical Attack in Idlib Province with 100+ Casualties?
Aleppo — Regime Troops Insurgent Offensive, Hezbollah, and Militia “Criminals and Cowards”
Videos: Islamic State of Iraq’s “Fun Fairs” Aren’t Much Fun Anymore
Interview: Liwa al-Tawhid Fighter in Aleppo “With ISIS Gone, Situation Has Improved Dramatically”
“Many Hundreds Dead” in Aleppo Central Prison