Since the beginning of the armed phase of the revolution, Assad never bothered trying to get his own captured soldiers, irrespective of their backgrounds, but, today, he was willing to release over 2,100 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranian captives. These priorities of his might give us a “hint” as to who is really in charge in Syria at this stage. The demons within are legion, so are the demons without. Snowfall notwithstanding, we are already in the lowest depths of hell, and we’re fighting our way out.
Update from an aid worker based in Beirut
We still go a couple of days a week to Damascus unless the situation is too bad. Actually it is getting pretty bad also inside Damascus now, they were firing rockets from helicopters right over us last time I was in and the rockets they fire on Daraya and Mu’adamiyah among other places sometimes fly right over us. I saw some of the effects of the carpet bombing of Harasta from the old city – SANA ran a great article about how “Damascus lovers” still go the restaurants in the old city to hang out – they just forgot to mention that the whole town closes down to checkpoints at sunset, that traffic effectively closes down after 7 and they take away young men for the army at the checkpoints, that shooting is heard from places all over the centre when it is dark and there are army snipers on the roofs, and that the shabiha roam the streets of the old city for fear of FSA infiltration. Not exactly the romantic atmosphere for “Damascus lovers”….
Nada Bakos, a former Central Intelligence Agency, has this to say about Al-Nusra’s plans in Syria:
Al-Nusra is using some of the same tactics as al Qaeda in Iraq (e.g., suicide bombings, kidnappings and car bombs), but it appears to be trying to strike a balance Zarqawi was unwilling to make: Not only does it seem to be avoiding alienating—if not antagonizing—the larger population, but it also is providing the people of Syria with a range of goods and services such as food, water and medical care—basic necessities that people need to survive in the best of times, let alone when their country is in the throes of a civil war.
If this becomes a trend, it might signal that al-Nusra aspires to be more like Hezbollah or Hamas, organizations that defy neat categorization based on the range of social, political and military activities they engage in and the resultant legitimacy they have in the eyes of their constituencies…
My read of al-Nusra, however, is that, like Zarqawi, it does not aspire to be a political player and is unlikely to settle for a political role in the new government. Instead, it may aim to play the spoiler for any transitional government and use its resources and political violence to empower and encourage other like-minded extremists. With time and opportunity, al-Nusra could not only add to regional instability in the Middle East, but also rekindle global jihad.
However, information obtained from a variety of local activists in Syria indicates that Al-Nusra is seriously establishing its own political council with representatives in the local government emerging throughout the liberated territories in the north and the northeast. As such, the recommendation made by Bakos to use the “designation of al-Nusra [as a terrorist group] as both a stick and carrot, cajoling and encouraging it to enter into mainstream politics when (or if) the Assad regime falls” sounds like something that the Obama Administration could try soon, considering that “the opportunity for meaningful U.S. intervention might have passed.”
As snow falls, Syrian families in Damascus wait for the release of their loved ones in accordance with the prisoners swap agreement between rebels and authorities http://youtu.be/2A91LMqNRBE The first few are released http://youtu.be/v2FEfkTrIv0 , http://youtu.be/whnXryohVKY
Rebels from Jabhat Al-Nusra bring down a helicopter gunship n the town of Alboukamal on the Iraqi borders, and arrest its 6-member crew http://youtu.be/R_nORNTHaOM Meanwhile, an affiliate of Al-Nusra distributes gas cylinders in the village of Shmeitiyeh http://youtu.be/QwlvhRyO3P8
Clashes around the military airport in Deir Ezzor continue http://youtu.be/hDN4BxLphNE
Rebels take control of Wadi Obeid oilfield in Raqqah Province http://youtu.be/wD2iEsv8mdI
Rebels affiliated with Ahrar Al-Sham attack the military airport at Taftanaz in Idlib Province http://youtu.be/-hqq3_sP0oQ , http://youtu.be/G2qFSeJ97a8 Rebels use a confiscated armored vehicles to storm over the airport fence http://youtu.be/QFhr8zVGJqY
Intense clashes between FSA rebels and loyalist militias continue in Basr Al-Harir, Daraa http://youtu.be/li9L5VuwUIc , http://youtu.be/23kuh7HeQpM
FSA rebels in Aleppo continue their siege of the police academy http://youtu.be/MyTZ2y8x_Uw
Snow http://youtu.be/_IMwo6OPPz0 does not prevent the continuing pounding of restive neighborhoods in Old Homs http://youtu.be/4Pe_HPV8hiI
Snowfall http://youtu.be/JVXtD36EpJU does not prevent clashes in parts of Damascus City http://youtu.be/HzDrqs-bpsc
Children in Al-Zaatari Camp in Jordan try to fix their fallen tent http://youtu.be/Biko44LrpeI