|Syria's 14 provinces or governorates|
On the day the Syrian opposition said it deferred a decision on forming a government-in-exile at its meeting in Istanbul, a newspaper close to Syria’s regime was anticipating an imminent and gory government campaign to jettison rebels from three of Syria 14 provinces: Damascus, “Rif Dimashq” (or Damascus suburbs) and Homs.
The opposition said in a statement, “After studying the proposals and after deliberation on the question of creating an interim government, we decided to set up a five-member committee tasked with consulting with the forces of the revolution, the Free Syrian Army and friendly countries.”
The panel – which includes among others, National Coalition chief Moaz el-Khatib, Syrian National Council head George Sabra and former SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun -- would also be tasked with exploring the extent of Arab and international political and financial commitments needed to make an interim government viable.
The opposition is due to meet again on January 28 in Paris, along with representatives of some 20 countries that back the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
But Assad himself won’t be holding back meantime.
According to al-Akhbar daily, his mouthpiece in Beirut, it’s now “back to the battlefront.”
The paper explains, and I paraphrase in part:
In light of fresh reports about root changes in the Syrian army’s accomplishments and operations, and as a new round of diplomacy spurred by forces hostile to Syria gathers pace, fear of a bloodier conflict is mounting.
Syria is moving towards a new phase, politically and on the ground. The external diplomatic ambiance does not augur an impending settlement.
Lakhdar Brahimi urged “real change” in Syria, but failed to win concessions from either the regime or the opposition.
On the ground, the regular army’s efficacy has been going from strength to strength since the collapse of the rebels’ “Damascus foray.”
Several sources confirm Military Intelligence played a key role in the army’s recent successes in the Damascus suburbs and the Homs area.
After a reassessment of the situation, decisions were made to forsake efforts deemed futile. As a result, it was decided to abandon certain positions and not to engage in military confrontations in a range of areas, chiefly in the North.
The endeavors of players hostile to the Syrian regime are now focused on:
-- Lifting the Syrian National Coalition’s morale and lobbying for an interim government with promises of political and financial help.
-- Renewing the attempt to centralize the armed opposition under a single military command.
-- Putting on ice the issue of al-Nusra Front in the hope that all rebel groups would close ranks, particularly in the rural areas of Idlib and Aleppo.
-- Compensating for the “Damascus foray” fiasco with high-visibility blasts targeting regime political figures or a military push that would expand rebel control of this or that area.
On the battleground, reports from Damascus say regime forces will try to regain full control of the provinces of Damascus, Rif Dimashq and Homs. The implication is that military operations are expected to stretch from Eastern Ghouta southward to Qusayr and villages in the Homs rural area. The outcome of these confrontations will have far-reaching repercussions in the next stage.
Given the persisting internal split and intensifying outside pressures, Syria has a rendezvous with a new bloodstained chapter.