Syrian regime hits back in Damascus as ill-equipped rebels struggle

The Guardian reports: With Syria’s second city, Aleppo, consumed by violence, war has returned with a vengeance to its capital. But in Damascus, the regime, rather than rebel groups, is on the attack. The summer offensive that rebel leaders envisaged is, so far, not going to plan.

Nationwide, the intensity of violence and number of dead and wounded is now at its highest level since the uprising began more than 18 months ago. Western officials, activists and rights groups estimate that close to 5,000 people have died during the past month alone. “It was a good Ramadan for the regime,” said one western official. “If you can call 5,000 dead people good.”

In Aleppo, savage fighting along several front lines is claiming around 30-60 victims per day, including government soldiers. The city looks and feels abandoned. Most citizens who live in the rebel-held eastern half have either left, or have bunkered down in their homes, where few supplies are reaching them from regime-held areas to the south.

Siege is crippling the opposition areas of the city. And a well-chronicled withering rain of shells from tanks and jets is wearing down both fighters and the few residents who have remained.

As Aleppo has been burning, however, Damascus has also re-ignited, but with much less attention.

The rebel insurrection in the capital, which struck fear into the heart of the regime from 18 July, with the killing of three security chiefs, was put down by loyalist forces around 10 days later, and does not at present appear to have lived up to expectations.

The assault on the capital had led to large numbers of desertions and defections and sharply bolstered rebel morale in other areas of the country, especially in Aleppo where the charge was led by forces who had rapidly ousted loyalists from security bases in the hinterland.

For the first time since the start of the uprising, the regime had appeared rattled. Its inner sanctum, watertight for four decades, started to creak and the number of defectors or deserters from Syria’s 300,000-strong army is believed by Turkish and western observers to have topped 50,000.

Since then attacks on rebel strongholds in Damascus have intensified and the opposition’s capacity to counter them seems to have tapered off.

“We don’t know what’s going on in Damascus,” said one rebel leader in Aleppo this week. “All we know is that there’s a big fight happening here.”

While rebel forces have shown more of an ability to co-ordinate operations – the summer offensive on the two leading cities is a case in point – they remain unable to make effective use of the officers who held command and control positions in the regime army and who have since sided with them.

“These officers cross the border into Turkey and then we don’t see them again,” said Sheikh Tawfiq Abu Sleiman, who commands a Free Syria Army unit in northern Aleppo. “They never come back to the battlefield to join us. And even if they did, many people here would not accept them.”

Neither are defecting soldiers on the Aleppo battlefield being used as reinforcements. “They go to Turkey,” said Radwan Surmeidi, a rebel who had just received three regime defectors last weekend. “They don’t join us straight away. And maybe never.”

The rebel forces’ inability to receive reinforcements is not helping them against a standing military that continues to outman and outgun them. Nor are new weapons coming their way, after the flush of guns and bombs taken in raids on regime depots abandoned by fleeing forces in late-July.

A trickle of assault weapons and ammunition comes over the border from Turkey, with the help of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkish intelligence officials. However, the heavy weapons that rebel leaders have been calling for, especially anti-aircraft guns, have not arrived. [Continue reading…]

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