Friday, July 20, 2012

Rebels Pushed Back In Damascus As They Gain Ground Elsewhere

Bashar al Assad's Syrian military has managed to push back an offensive by rebel forces in the capital of Damascus. It was not without a heavy toll in civilian casualties, which seems to be the norm in the fighting there.

Artillery attacks and airstrikes from helicopters are causing significant damage across the city, particularly in the area of Midan:
On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said a group of rebel fighters claimed to have routed government soldiers in a section of Midan neighborhood, taking over a piece of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The claim, like most of the reports of fighting and of casualties, could not be independently confirmed.

But on Friday Syrian state media and the Syrian Observatory said government forces, fighting back with a superior military machine pitted against an opposition still working predominantly with small-caliber weapons, had retaken Midan, while the number of dead in fighting across the land on Thursday was reported to have risen above 300. Of the dead, 98 were soldiers, 139 civilians and 65 rebels, rebels said.

The figures updated earlier estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights for the death toll on Thursday, claiming that 155 civilians and 93 government soldiers were killed, including nearly 60 civilians in and around Damascus.

The latest tally was among the highest — if not the highest — claimed in a single day since the revolt began in March 2011. It could not be independently corroborated because of the difficulties and restrictions on independent news gathering in Syria.

Claiming victory in Midan, Syrian state television declared: “Our brave army forces have completely cleaned the area of Midan in Damascus of the remaining mercenary terrorists and have re-established security.” Rebels said they had staged a “tactical withdrawal” from Midan to avert civilian casualties.
Neither side appears to bother with worrying about collateral damage; we're talking about heavy combat in a dense urban setting.

At the same time pitched battles are occurring in Damascus, rebel forces claimed to have captured border crossings on both the Turkish and Iraqi borders. That's a significant development since it would enable the rebel forces to regroup and rearm more freely. The rebels were claiming to have briefly held the Turkish border crossing before withdrawing from the area because of concerns over the Syrian military's capabilities in that area; they did so for propaganda purposes.

Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports that the Russians have been informed that Assad's willing to step down. That would be news to the Syrian media, which is controlled by Assad, that denied the allegations.
Russia's ambassador to France said Friday that he believes Syria's president is ready to step down "in a civilized way." But the Syrian government immediately denied it.

Alexander Orlov said that Bashar Assad's acceptance of an international agreement in June for a transition toward a more democratic regime, and his subsequent step of naming a representative to negotiate the transition, meant that he was prepared to give up leadership.

The country is sliding into even further chaos, with fighting around the capital Damascus intensifying two days after the inner circle of Assad's regime was hit by an attack that killed three top Syrian defense officials.

"Personally ... I think it will be difficult for him to stay in office given everything that's happened," Orlov said in an interview with Radio France Internationale.

Orlov spoke a day after Moscow vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution aimed at pressuring President Bashar Assad's government to end the war. Friday was the deadline for the U.N. to renew its 300-member observer mission in Syria, or let the mandate expire.
Russia has been busy propping up the Assad regime all while claiming it wasn't doing so. They have repeatedly blocked any United Nations actions, particularly under Chapter VII that allows the use of military force. Yesterday, they, along with the Chinese vetoed tougher sanctions against the regime. That move clearly indicates an intention to prop up the regime, and that spells bad news for Russia when the regime finally is overthrown. The Syrian people aren't going to forget who was involved in propping up the regime or that the Russians, along with the Chinese and Iranians don't have the well being of the Syrian people in mind when they're busy propping up a murderous tyrant. Russia could well lose one of its last remaining allies/clients in the Middle East if Assad falls.

At the same time, a shipment of Syrian-owned refurbished attack helicopters have been offloaded from a Russian cargo ship back in Russia. These aren't new Syrian helicopters, but were part of a deal between the two countries for Syria to refurbish them and had been a part of a row with the US over arming the Assad regime; it would seem the Russians backed away from precipice.

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