Rebel setbacks in Syria have far reaching consequences

Hassan Hassan writes: Is Syrian president Bashar Al Assad finally winning? One can feel a deep sense of grief running through opposition factions whether inside or outside Syria over how events have unfolded over the past two weeks.

Pro-regime forces have made a series of major gains in northern, central and southern Syria over the past week.

More strikingly, they broke a three-year siege imposed by the rebels around the Shia towns of Nubbol and Zahraa, 20 kilometres from Aleppo city, which represents a major setback for the rebels especially as it could disrupt a game of encirclement and counter-encirclement that sustained the rebels’ control of much of Aleppo since 2012.

Five months after the regime’s forces seemed incapable of halting the string of victories achieved by the rebels in northern Syria, which led to the Russian military intervention to prop up their ally, the regime appears to be on the offensive. The offensive is seen n northern Latakia, the western Ghouta near Damascus, Deraa and in the rural areas of Hama, Idlib and Aleppo. The regime appears to have made an impressive comeback.

It is hard to judge how one side is doing through such tactical gains. The rebels were clearly on the winning side just a year ago, while the regime’s army suffered from a shortage in manpower, as admitted by Mr Al Assad himself during his last speech in August.

The breaking of the siege of Nubbol and Zahraa last week, as well as the siege of Kweiris airbase near Raqqa in November and the takeover of Sheikh Maskeen in Deraa last month, were spearheaded by foreign militias beholden to Iran.

The opposition’s real crisis is much deeper, hence the state of grieving widely felt by the rebels. These setbacks come amid profound internal, regional and international challenges that could tip the balance dramatically in favour of the regime. [Continue reading…]

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