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Jul 10, 2013 | 15:21 GMT

3 mins read

Syrian Rebels' Opportunities Despite Homs Offensive

Syrian Rebels' Opportunities Despite Homs Offensive
(-/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Having driven rebel forces from Qusair and a number of towns across Homs governorate with the assistance of Hezbollah, Syrian regime forces are now fully focused on clearing rebel positions from the city of Homs itself. Meanwhile, rebel forces are taking advantage of the regime's focus on Homs to consolidate their gains in the north.

Despite having survived a tight siege and numerous offensives over the span of more than a year, the rebels holed up in Homs now face their most serious threat to date. The regime has pummeled rebel positions with massed artillery and airstrikes for more than 10 days while regular army forces and the auxiliary National Defense Forces, supported by tanks and armored vehicles, seek to advance on the ground despite heavy casualties.

Though the rebels have offered stiff resistance, the regime has already managed to take at least a fifth of the Khalidiya neighborhood and is threatening to seize Homs' old covered market, which would effectively sever Khalidiya from old Homs. Running low on ammunition and without an avenue of retreat (like they had in the Qusair battle), remaining rebel forces are reportedly threatening suicide attacks against any advancing regime soldiers.

Despite the dire situation for the rebels inside Homs, rebels on the northern front have begun to intensify their operations, taking advantage of a recent influx of weapons, and are determined to solidify their gains before the regime amasses enough force for a significant offensive on Aleppo. For example, rebels have pressed their attacks on the regime supply lines in nearby Idlib by attacking checkpoints along the M4 highway that runs from Latakia on the coast and links up with the M5 highway near Saraqeb. As part of these operations, the rebels have also blown up bridges, such as the Bsanqoul bridge in Idlib governorate.

The rebels are also intensifying their attacks in Aleppo governorate. They have largely succeeded in containing the buildup of irregular forces loyal to the regime in the Shiite villages of al-Zahra and Nubl and are further tightening the siege on regime forces in Aleppo. Rebels are launching fresh advances in the Mansoura and Rashidin neighborhoods, driving back regime attempts to break into the city and ensuring the continued closure of Aleppo International Airport.

Previously, the rebels were heavily taxing food going into regime-controlled areas of Aleppo, but had allowed the flow to continue. As part of their new campaign, however, the rebels have taken measures to tighten the blockade, which has led to a serious food crisis in the city, especially in the regime-held neighborhoods, which are located predominantly in the center and western parts of the city. Food prices have skyrocketed and gasoline has virtually run out.

Significant numbers of loyalist forces are currently engaged in the regime effort to fully secure the key governorate of Homs. The rebels fear that once Damascus achieves its objectives in the province it will be able to launch fresh offensives elsewhere. Indeed, the regime has already moved to clear a significant portion of the secondary roads that lead from Salamiyeh in Hama governorate to Aleppo.  These roads could be used to stage a future offensive to break the rebel siege.

In effect, the longer the rebels survive and necessitate the use of regime forces in the rubble of Homs and the outlying towns and villages of the governorate, the more time the rebels in the north have to consolidate their gains and launch new operations. With the rebel position in Homs increasingly precarious, the regime could refocus more of its firepower and its attention on the north sooner rather than later.

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