How does the conflict look from the rebels’ point of view?
Last Saturday, the Free Syrian Army announced that they had moved their Turkish command centre into liberated Syrian territory, perhaps suggesting greater confidence on their part. The move will also be popular among many rank-and-file members of the FSA, who have expressed concern that the orders proceed safely from over the border, whilst they must risk their lives on Syrian soil.
Yet, it does seem that the rebels are slowly edging closer to a victory; it is not rare for bombs to explode in supposedly highly-secure areas of loyalist Damascus, threatening key government and military buildings and officials.
And from the people’s perspective?
Until a few months ago, life in Damascus was little changed from before the start of the conflict, but, after the rebel attack a few months ago, there has been a prevailing attitude of caution and fear. Few send their children to school; few cars are to be seen on the road; whilst the shopping centres are empty save for the shop assistants.
The humanitarian impact is horrifying. The latest report from Save The Children expressed grave concern about the number of children who have been killed or injured in the conflict, representing a significant percentage of the 20,000-30,000 killed so far. They also recounted that every child they had spoken to had had at least one family member killed. According to the BBC, in excess of 260,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, 1.2 million have been left without a home and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Is Assad’s support looking weak?
In the Addalia area of Syria, Assad’s homeland and the home of the Alawite sect, the people remain staunchly loyal to the regime. Yet, in Damascus, some doubt how strong Assad’s iron grip is behind closed doors.
With regards to his inner circle, he has lost a serious number of important figures, including Riad Hijab, the Prime Minister, and Brig Gen Manaf Tlass, Commander in the Republican Guard. Although the cities of Idlib, Deraa and Homs remain under regime control, the rebels have gained large swathes of territory in the border region with Turkey, but still lack the control of any major cities.
Nevertheless, Iran and Russia continue to stand by Assad. Analysts believe the reasoning for this lies partly in Tartus, where Russia has its last naval base in the Mediterranean, whilst its arms contracts with Syria amount to £5 billion. Having already suffered badly from the collapse of their contract with Libya and the sanctions applied to Iran, the defence industry is eager to hold onto this outlet. Many suggest that China’s support lies in the government’s fear of the Arab Spring, which has been compared with the dissidents in Tibet by some reporters, whilst the nation has also already lost important trade with Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. In addition, China is afraid of isolation in the Central and North African region, where it had tried to establish bonds with the now overthrown regimes; thus it is even more determined to see its ally Assad prevail.
PHOTO CREDIT: Julia C. Reinhart