Friday, July 20, 2012

Syria: Assad regime starts to unravel

Damascus sees fierce fighting as Free Syrian Army fighters take control of key suburbs and crossings into Turkey and Iraq

Luke Harding in Beirut and Ian Black, Middle East editor, Friday 20 July 2012

"....In a further sign of regime erosion a Syrian general was reported to have fled to Turkey, bringing the number of fugitive generals there to 22. The rebels also now control a key Kamal/Qaim border crossing with Iraq, after slaughtering the 22 government soldiers tasked with guarding it. Iraqi troops have now sealed the crossing.

The capture of Syria's borders by the opposition was an important moment, analysts said, and showed Syria's 16-month conflict was now a fast-moving guerilla war. Fawwaz Traboulsi, a Beirut-based historian and columnist, said the tactics and strategy of the Free Syrian Army had improved, in contrast to the early days of the uprising.

"It's conducting a war that is very close to a guerrilla war. The FSA can move very easily. It can withdraw. It is taking whole regions and holding them," he said.

With Assad's options narrowing, and a diplomatic solution elusive, Traboulsi was sceptical that Assad would abandon Damascus and go abroad – even if he wished to.

He noted: "Bashar doesn't rule himself. He leads a family in power and a circle of army and security leaders. He can't simply whisk himself out of the country without their knowledge. If he flees the whole thing will collapse."

Others predicted the end was near. "The regime is going through its last days," Abdel Basset Sayda, the leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, said in Rome. Michael Young, a columnist with Beirut's Daily Star newspaper, agreed that the regime was disintegrating around the edges. "If you lose the borders you are allowing the creation of safe zones for weapons to come through. The Syrian regime holds the cities. But it doesn't control rural areas. And at night its control over the cities is very iffy. This is a new phenomenon," he observed.

Young added that it was still unclear who was behind Wednesday's bombing. He said there was no evidence for the widespread "conspiracy theory" that the blast may have been an "inside job", adding: "I would say all the versions are in some way decisively wrong."

Majid Arar, who lives closer to the scene of the attack, told the Guardian. "After hearing the news of the generals being killed there was some excitement and some joy, because people are furious [with the regime]. But when the government started bombarding people started to feel very scared. It's joy and at the same time fear for the future. People are now more open to talk about what's going on in the city, even on the telephone. People usually fear that the government is listening but are now more open to talking. Some barriers have been broken.""

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