The Guardian reports: When Russia launched an air campaign to support Bashar al-Assad, it was banking on a ground force of Syrian troops to finish what its warplanes started.
However, more than 12 weeks later, Syria’s army and the large numbers of Shia militias that back it have made few meaningful gains on the ground. Meanwhile, Moscow’s jets have added a new layer of carnage, reportedly killing at least 600 Syrian citizens, including 70 in Idlib on Sunday.
In Syria’s north and in opposition-held parts of the cities of Hama and Damascus, the destruction wrought on civilian infrastructure and population centres over the past fortnight is more intense than at any point in almost five years of war, residents of the communities and observers outside Syria say.
Meanwhile, the US has claimed that a once-broad gap with Russia over how to end the war has been narrowing, with both sides last week championing a peace process that aims to defuse a conflict that has killed at least 250,000 people and left Syria in ruins.
On the ground in rebel areas, there is little faith in the process. “Where are these reasonable Russians that Kerry claims are starting to see the light?” said a doctor in an Idlib hospital who was treating casualties, referring to the US secretary of state, John Kerry. “Bashar’s jets never bombed us like the Russians do. Isis never hunted us down like this.”
Damage from airstrikes is intensifying, but the Syrian ground forces are showing few signs of being able to use this to their advantage. With opposition anti-tank rockets taking a heavy toll on regime armour between Hama and Latakia, conscription of military-age males is stepping up across government-held parts of the country in an attempt to boost national forces. [Continue reading…]