Even should Assad lose Damascus, he can still withdraw to coastal strongholds and hunker down for a longtime, while rebels fight over spoils, and Arabs and Kurds battle each other over control of areas in the north and northeast. Without a political process, this crisis will drag on for years.
Following their takeover of the Marj Al-Sultan Airbase south of Damascus, a mere 10 KM from Damascus International Airport, rebels moved in on Tuesday to take over DIA itself. Consequently, Syrian authorities shut down the airport for “routine maintenance.” A day later, internet and cell and landline services were shut down. Is it sabotage? Indeed, the main internet cable feeding into Damascus does run parallel to the highway leading to DIA, but considering the fact that landlines and cellphones were down as well all over Syria Damascus, this is not likely. Is it a sign of panic on part of the regime? I think so. But that does not mean that the endgame is nearing, it’s just the battle of Damascus about to unfold. Slowly, the rebels were encircling Damascus, and the regime might be planning a major offensive to prevent that from happening. Whatever the case maybe at this stage, the battle for Damascus will likely be long and bloody. Let’s not forget here that the better supplied and equipped rebels in Aleppo are still having a hard time liberating the city.
But even should Assad lose Damascus, he can still withdraw to coastal strongholds and hunker down for a longtime, while rebels fight over spoils, and Arabs and Kurds battle each other over control of areas in the north and northeast. Without a political process, this crisis will drag on for years.
But the problem here is that no one seems to want a political process at this stage other than external players will little credibility on the ground: the Russians and Iranians who continue to support the regime and whose vision of a political process is meant to give Assad a lifeline, and the Saudi, Qataris and Turks whose support of the rebels is spotty and continues to be undermined by western, especially American, dithering.
At this stage, buoyed by Russian and Iranian support, Assad will not take a political process seriously, unless he is forced out of Damascus and his backers are thus forced to recalibrate their position. For their part, rebels will keep seeing in a political process an attempt at circumventing their recent successes. Islamists in particular will see a political process as a conspiracy meant to undermine them and their plans for establishing an Islamic state. They will be right of course. Meanwhile, the vision of “victory” espoused by most opposition groups seem to revolve around the belief that rebels will end up “liberating” all of Syria, including Kurdish, Alawite, Druze and Christian majority areas, at which time a political process can be launched and a debate over rights and responsibilities of each national and confessional group can take place. The fact that this vision is nothing short of recipe for a prolonged civil conflict has not dawned upon them yet, and until it does and until they realize that dialogue in the near future will not save the regime but could save the country, the possibility of launching a viable process is nonexistent.
Two technology firms that monitor global Internet traffic report that Syria has been cut off from the Internet. Regular landline phone and cell phones services have been affected as well, Syrian opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid told me. “Therefore, the possibility of accidental damage can be discounted,” said Abdulhamid. “This is something done intentionally by the regime, and reflects growing desperation on account of the recent advances made by rebels, especially in Damascus.”
The communications blackout may signal that the 20-month-long uprising against Bashar al-Assad has moved to a new and even more violent stage, in what some are calling the battle for Damascus. “With Assad forces now conducting major operations in Damascus,” says Abdulhamid, “they will cover it up as much as possible and create their own version of the truth.” ...
Assad’s desperation, said Abdulhamid, is a product of the rebels’ recent advances. “In the last two weeks, the regime has lost six air bases around Damascus and Aleppo,” Abdulhamid said. “The rebels might not be able to hold all those bases, but they’ve lifted arms from those bases, including the surface to air missiles with which they’ve brought down 9 aircraft in the last two days—5 MiGs, 4 helicopter gunships.”
In effect, the opposition has begun to carve out a small no-fly zone of its own. “The rebels,” says Abulhamid, “are quietly laying siege to Damascus.”
Over the last few days, Assad’s regime has suffered major losses in its clashes with rebels, who have managed to encircle the capital, Damascus, even attacking the International Airport there and forcing a shutdown of its services, said Ammar Abdulhamid, an exiled Syrian pro-democracy activist and fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in an email to the Daily Dot.
“As such, the move could reflect a sign of growing panic in the regime and could be a desperate move to disrupt communications between rebel groups, even though rebels rely for the most part on satellite communications and short wave radio rather than the internet,” Abdulhamid added. …
As was the case during the Egyptian uprising, shutting down the Internet will only embolden people to rebel and disseminate information anyway they can, Abdulhamid said.
“This shutdown could be a sign that the regime is preparing for a major offensive in Damascus and elsewhere, and wants to delay coverage of the event by international press as much as possible,” he added.
“But that does not make much sense really, considering the widespread use of satellite communications. But if the regime is in a panic mode, then not all its steps would be rational at this stage.”
It’s still unclear how the Internet blackout happened—and for what purpose. While Syria’s information minister blamed “terrorists” for the disruption, others suspect that the government is behind the blackout. “I think we can discount the theory that rebels did the damage, because landlines and cellphones were down as well,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident based in the United States and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The regime is behind this, and seems desperate because of the recent advances made by rebels in Damascus and elsewhere—but especially in Damascus.”
“The rebels were quietly laying siege to Damascus. Not in the traditional manner, but by capturing key bases around the city and making travel along the major highways a risky affair,” he added. “I think the regime clearly panicked and it might be trying to undertake some major offensive operations in the area to get the situation under control, before the rebels are more organized and better supplied.”
Rebels and activists blame the car bombings in Jaramana on the regime. Jaramana is a mixed Druze and Christian community, but there are many Sunnis, and Iraqi refugees. The regime has been trying to get more recruits for its militias from their ranks, without much success so far. Targeting these communities des not make much sense from rebel perspective, but makes ample sense from the point of view of the regime. The more fear there is, the greater the support it can get, no matter how tentative, especially as things heat up in the City, and rebels continue to encircle the city. The rebels are actually in a position to lay a protracted siege of the city for the bombardment taking place.
The rising popularity of smartphones and the Syrian government’s sharp limits on the movements of independent journalists have made social media an especially vital source of information about the conflict. The abrupt loss of the technology has caused widespread fear, said Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“Not everyone will have access” to news about the conflict, said Abdulhamid, who has close ties to Syria’s opposition. “There will be panic. There will be fear.”
The pounding of Eastern Ghoutah Region in Damascus continues http://youtu.be/jy1XzvzaA7Y Inhabitants of Douma evacuate their town gain after another rounds of aerial bombardments http://youtu.be/FqqBSDva0cY In Daraya, several members of the Ziadeh family were killed in aerial bombardment, this is the family of known human rights activists Radwan Ziadeh http://youtu.be/oEbrhdhZgAo
Rebels bring down a MiG in Daar Azzah, Aleppo http://youtu.be/HMw0P4m6Dxo , http://youtu.be/Zxd0Ie5GrVI , http://youtu.be/krf6sSDYqWs The pilot was captured and treated but his wounds were fatal http://youtu.be/qZZfN0VbuCo
In Deir Ezzor, MiGs took part in pounding the town Bouleil http://youtu.be/ghNCZ7QBrQQ
Current trend, using more women in pro-Assad militias in checkpoints in Damascus http://youtu.be/u8R0HGGi1Y0
Kurdish Rebels in Aleppo form their own fighting unit called Azadi http://youtu.be/h4BGHCCV0hY
Benefitting from loyalist troops pullout from the region, rebels in Hama come together in a new and larger formation http://youtu.be/wEgnE0IT0xY
Rebels in the coastal areas come in a larger formation as well http://youtu.be/FR-CzzfLTzE