Syria – Update from the Front

Hafez falling

Hafez falling in Raqaa

In the North and the East

Roughly speaking, the North is starting to get closer to a liberated zone and signs of a new Syria are emerging, especially in Aleppo. Most of the border with Turkey is controlled by the rebels (mainly al Farouk brigade) who have recently focused on more strategic targets (bigger cities, airports, military bases…). But that does not mean that these are stable and safe areas.

Some places where the regime is not in control anymore are just security vacuums, no man’s destructed land where anything can happen and jihadists thrive (particularly in the North East). On the other hand, threats of massive shelling from the regime over the North have increased, as in the case Aleppo (remember the scuds?) and Raqaa. Actually, the more the rebels will liberate territory, especially cities, the more anti-aircraft protection they will need.

Around Damascus

Around Damascus, things are very complicated and look like a long and bloody urban trench warfare with “hit and run” operations from both sides. Some areas, such as Darayya, have been almost wiped out of the map by the regime. However, beyond the apparent anarchy, there seem to be an attempt at surrounding the capital and taking over the International airport. Beyond the obvious strategic value of such a target, taking the airport would also create a junction with the Eastern Ghouta where important rebel groups are based. However, controlling the airport would imply going through neighborhoods inhabited by religious minorities, so this could be a tricky moment for the revolution.

On the Coast

Meanwhile on the West coast, the regime is building an impregnable fortress around the Alawite areas and is crushing with even less subtlety than elsewhere any signs of rebellion. The relentless destruction of Homs could be part of a plan to build a safe haven for the Alawite in case the regime needs to leave Damascus.

In the South

South of Damascus and near the Golan, the regime is still strong and the rebels disorganized. People opposing the regime seem to be cut off from the more organized segments of the rebellion. The recent episode of the UN peacekeepers kidnapping was a tragicomic example of despair, ignorance and amateurism. Leaders of the Druze community, important in this area, have taken a rather neutral position, fearing regime retaliation.

In General

All in all, despite the media buzz about international negotiations and public announcements, little to no international help is trickling down to the ground, being it strategic help to the rebels or humanitarian help for  the millions of Syrian displaced and refugees.

Meanwhile, in the North, signs of a new order are blooming under the rubbles:

  • The Elections in Aleppo on March 2 and 3, as a very first democratic experience where a new generation of Syrians, including people from the country side, has been elected.
  • The resistance of civil society against abuses of some battalions. In Aleppo, a fast mobilization led to a media campaign against an armed group which bombed by mistake a family house and then executed the surviving son who came to complain. Former citizen reporters are getting more organized and institutionalized; giving birth to what could become a civilian “check and balance” force.
  • The rejection of an Islamic order: there are isolated groups who are trying to benefit from the security vacuum to establish a religious order. But they are faced with the fierce resistance of the locals who accept their military help but reject their religious agenda. In Mayadeen (Eastern Syria) for instance, people took to the street three days in a row against al Nusra front, following an attempt at setting up a religious council and a religious police force.  Previous similar incidents have been accounted for in the province of Idlib.
  • The Friday slogans keep on stressing the need for a united Syria and reject sectarian violence. Recently they explicitly rejected the partition of Syria. After breaking the statue of Hafez al Assad in the main square of Raqaa, an inhabitant wrote a message of hope for a better future.
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