A series of setbacks are complicating attempts by rebels, who have seen their positions steadily erode in recent months, to regain momentum in the Syria’s protracted conflict.
Over the weekend rebels launched an offensive against the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, part of a series of moves by opposition groups aimed at securing areas of northern Syria. The campaign came after they seized the town of Khan al-Assal last month, followed by successes in almost a dozen villages along the Mediterranean coast.
Last week even saw claims by rebels that they had penetrated Damascus sufficiently to strike President Bashar al-Assad’s motorcade as he went to Ramadan prayers in an upmarket Damascus neighborhood. Witness accounts confirmed a large explosion in the vicinity of one of Assad’s palaces.
Islam Alloush, a spokesman for Liwa al-Islam (“Islamic Brigades”), admitted by Skype to the Wall Street Journal that the attack “had more of a morale-related impact than a military one.” Nonetheless two rebel groups, Alloush’s own Islami Brigades and Tahrir al-Sham (“the Levant Liberation”) – proudly claimed the attack on their Facebook pages. The Associated Press noted that the attack, if confirmed, “could shake the regime’s confidence and expose its vulnerability”
Syrian officials promptly denied the reports, with Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi dismissing the claims as “completely baseless and a mere reflection of the wishes and illusions of some media outlets and the governments standing behind them.” The reference was apparently to Saudi based, Al Arabiya, which first reported the attack. Syria state TV’s English broadcast aired a clip Thursday of Assad praying at Eid el-Fitr services, though it remained unclear whether it was new or rehashed footage. No mention was made of the reported strike.
Meanwhile, amid the sustained rebel campaign in the norht, the regime has claimed repeated successes in killing scores of rebels. Last Wednesday over 60 opposition fighters were reportedly killed by Syrian troops. Yesterday at least 18 rebels and a child died in fighting in Hama.
[Photo: RossijaNashaStrana / YouTube]