This video posted on the Internet yesterday shows the sort of heavy
weaponry commandeered by FSA fighters after capturing a military
base outside Deir Salman village in the Damascus Ghota, a green
agricultural belt surrounding the capital in the south and east
Syria’s 20-month conflict is slowly but surely homing in on the capital.
Rebel strikes against military bases across Syria have exposed President Bashar al-Assad's weakening grip in the north and east of the country and left his power base in Damascus vulnerable to the increasingly potent opposition forces.
Rebel fighters have taken at least five army and air installations in the last 10 days.
Rebels also have had a number of recent successes in shooting down Syrian military aircraft, a possible sign that they have been able to commandeer heavier weaponry after taking over government military bases.
Two helicopters were shot down in Aleppo province yesterday. A video of one of the attacks posted online shows a surface-to-air missile slamming into a helicopter in a ball of orange flame.
The two main rebel gains of the last fortnight were the huge 46th Division army base, which sprawls over several square kilometers west of Aleppo, and the Mayadeen base in Deir al-Zor, which left rebels controlling 120 kilometers of the Euphrates river north of the Iraqi border.
Around the capital itself, rebels have captured an air defense installation in the south of Damascus and a helicopter base situated among the eastern farmlands and towns, which have been an opposition stronghold for months.
To the southwest the army has been bombarding rebels in the suburb of Daraya, determined to prevent them from holding another gateway into the capital.
"There is a sense that the flames are licking at the door,” a diplomat in Damascus told Reuters.
While the regime has regularly claimed to be launching its final crackdown on the rebellion in Damascus province, such announcements have rarely borne fruit.
"If it feels the pressure build up further, the regime might turn into a militia, and that would be the start of a process of disintegration in Syria," analyst Karim Bitar of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), tells AFP.
"The atmosphere and characteristics of the battle for Aleppo will likely be reproduced in Damascus" if all-out war breaks out there, he added.
"The battle for Damascus will likely be even deadlier than Aleppo, and it might change the rules of the game. It will really be an existential battle for the regime, and such battles tend to give way to all kinds of madness and excess," said Bitar.
"If the rebels make real progress around the capital, it could be the beginning of the end for Assad," the analyst said.
"But the regime has not said its last word, and the coming weeks are full of danger."
An activist in the Damascus suburb of Jobar tells today’s Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat by Skype, “The regime has effectively collapsed. It only controls the peripheries of neighborhoods. Everyone here is waiting for Zero Hour, hoping it will pass well.”
The activist says “there are more than 10,000 (Free Syrian Army) fighters in the city” but he is uneasy about the anticipated backlash from the Fourth Armored Division commanded by Maher Assad, the president’s brother.
The Fourth Armored Division, which comes next in importance to the Republican Guard that Maher Assad commands as well, “won’t cede Damascus, even when the regime falls. They will destroy it by random shelling.”
Military analysts consider the Division as the best trained and best equipped of the Syrian Army. It is drawn mostly from members of the same Alawite minority sect as the Assad family.
About 80 percent of the Division’s soldiers and officers are Alawites and nearly 90 percent of them are career soldiers. The Division has a military base in the south of Damascus, which covers about 90 square kilometers and includes several mountain bunkers in Mount Qasioun.
An unnamed member of the opposition Local Coordination Committees tells Asharq Alawsat, “Over the last few weeks, Mount Qasioun – which overlooks the capital -- was converted to the largest military encampment that Damascus has ever known. All artillery weapons are aimed directly at the suburbs surrounding Damascus
“Because the feeling is that Zero Hour is imminent, the regime moved nearly all ammunitions into the capital and Mount Qasioun…
“Fear of reprisals by the Fourth Division won’t push back the battle for Damascus, which is knocking at the door. We’re mobilizing all our resources. People are stocking up medical supplies. Others are preparing to evacuate civilians and the rest are bracing for the offensive on the capital.”
“The Syrian revolution is okay,” Asharq Alawsat’s editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed writes in his leader today, adding in part:
“For almost a fortnight, the Arab media and many people overlooked details of Syrian revolution happenings. They were busy following news of the eight-day war in Gaza, then the Egyptian president’s counterrevolutionary decisions. Despite this, the Syrian revolution is okay. It is forging ahead on the right path, which will soon bring down the Damascus tyrant…
“The Syrian revolution is okay because Assad failed to exploit the breather when the media, the world at large and many Arabs were focused on the eight-day war in Gaza and the Egyptian president’s regressive decisions as the Syrian insurgents continued to tiptoe to Damascus.
“Assad is besieged more than ever before. Neither Russia, nor Iran -- with Hezbollah in tow – were able to change the equilibrium on the ground. Syrians are inching forward to lay siege to the tyrant’s palace. They are capturing Assad’s vital military bases one after the other. They are making political headway in the Arab world and Europe, leaving Assad aides Farouk el-Sharaa, Walid Muallem and Bouthaina Shaaban dumbstruck…
“The Syrian revolution is okay. All we’re waiting for now is tyrant Assad’s overthrow, which is looming more than at any time.”