In Syria, the Regime Reverses Some Rebel Gains

3 MINS READApr 29, 2013 | 14:27 GMT
In Syria, the Regime Reverses Some Rebel Gains
Smoke rises after a shelling in Houla on April 26

As the Syrian rebels continue to advance in northern and southern Syria, loyalist offensives elsewhere in the country have reversed some rebel gains. It is clear that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad is still powerful, particularly around Damascus and the Orontes River Valley, and that momentum for either side is difficult to maintain.

Forces still loyal to al Assad pushed through rebel lines and seized the town of Otaiba, east of Damascus, on April 24, after launching many attacks that reportedly included the use of chemical weapons. Losing Otaiba has effectively severed the rebels' supply lines into an area of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta, from which the rebels have staged heavy attacks on regime forces, and has thus hurt the rebels' war efforts in the capital.

After conducting a heavy artillery barrage, the regime tried to capitalize on its capture of Otaiba by launching an operation to rid Damascus' Jobar neighborhood of rebel forces April 26. If the regime succeeds in seizing Jobar, the rebels will once again fall back behind the ring road, Damascus' main highway, which forms a loop around the city, nullifying what gains they have made in the capital over the past few months. So far, the rebels appear to have held firm. They have even launched counterattacks to try to reclaim Otaiba, which, if left in regime hands, will enable loyalist forces to squeeze the rebels from the east and west in Eastern Ghouta.

Assistance from Hezbollah fighters has contributed to some of this recent success. Hezbollah fighters reportedly have augmented regime soldiers over the past few weeks, during which their tempo of operations sped up near Homs and Al-Qusayr. (It is not yet clear how many men Hezbollah has deployed; reports indicate as few as several hundred and as many as a few thousand.) Despite rebel gains at the Dabaa military airport, Hezbollah and regime fighters overtook the strategic village of Abel on April 18, furthering the pressure on rebels in the area. Moreover, they now appear to have the upper hand in fighting the rebels for control of Homs and its surrounding region. Hezbollah fighters have also prevented Sunni reinforcements from Lebanon from entering this region.

In Syria, the Regime Reverses Some Rebel Gains

Syria with Military cities

Farther north, the regime has frustrated rebel war efforts by breaking a six-month siege on the Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiya military compounds outside Maarat al-Numan. Rebels laying siege to the compounds were weakened when several units moved to other battles to the east. Loyalists made the most of the opportunity by breaching the rebel lines on April 14 and delivering much-needed supplies to the military compounds. Regime forces have unable to push farther north, however, and Maarat al-Numan remains firmly in rebel hands.

Even as the rebels continue to tally victories in the north and south, fighting over the past two weeks has shown that the regime still maintains significant combat power. This is particularly so in the core loyalist areas, which stretch north from Damascus to the Orontes River Valley and converge on the Alawite coast. The regime has made the most of its air power advantage by striking at the rebels and delivering supplies to disparate and isolated loyalist positions behind enemy lines.

In some ways, the past two weeks capture the complexion of the Syria conflict: long, drawn-out fighting marked by advances and sieges, which only slowly bring the rebels closer to the loyalist core. And without foreign assistance, the rebels will not expedite the fall of al Assad anytime soon.

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