Clashes returned last week in the heart of the Syrian capital Damascus after nearly three years of silence and tranquillity. Syrian opposition forces had revived their efforts to re-open a front in the capital Damascus, through the Jobar Neighbourhood as well as in Hama province.
Leading the operation was “Faylouq al Rahman” who represent the Free Syrian Army in addition to Ahrar al Sham. In a few hours the Syrian opposition managed to break the regimes defences claiming they took control of the Al Abbasiyeen Garages. This led to a state of emergency being declared and the immediate halting of all state operations across the capital, due to the state of panic and anxiety which spread among members of the army and its affiliated militias. Moreover, control of the Autostrad highway which connects Damascus to the rest of Syria’s governorates, had also been assumed by opposition forces which caused traffic delays to and from the capital. The seizure of Jobar and Qaboun also lead to the opening of the Qaboun area which had been under regime-siege.
Two weeks back Faylouq Al Rahman announced the beginning of the second stage of the battle dubbed “Servants of God Stand your Ground” after targeting Assad’s forces with car bombs. After which Rahman’s forces headed towards the industrial area of Damascus and seized several buildings and corporate properties close to Jobar.
This battle comes in the middle of March which is a symbolic time marking the sixth year of the Syrian revolutionary struggle. It comes at the same time that the Syrian regime started ingraining itself in other opposition held areas in the city of Homs and the surrounding areas of the capital Damascus – which had spread a sense of pessimism to some, that the revolution had come to an end.
Rebel groups timed this assault just days after the termination of the Geneva talks to reaffirm the idea that its militant factions can still operate significant strikes at the core of the security establishment whilst negotiations are underway. As such the opposition would not accept a political solution from a point of weakness or with an inability to confront and kill its adversary. On the contrary the assault was purposed to leverage a political solution that the opposition hoped would lead to the fall of the regime. The battle for Damascus has sent a clear message to the chief negotiators in the United Nations and in the West. The message is that the Syrian opposition will persevere in its fight until there is either a decisive military victory or a political solution that is suitable to the needs of the revolution.
This battle has also provided an opportunity to the political wing of the Syrian opposition to strengthen its bargaining position. This derives from the school of thought which underpins the principle that “he who is stronger on the ground is stronger on the negotiating table”. As such the High Negotiations Committee now has greater leverage to enforce its conditions and place new alternatives – particularly if the regime tries to escalate its military operations. This battle also prevented the Syrian regime from displacing the remaining pockets of resistance in the ‘Damascus province’ to Idlib or Jarablous to secure its grip on the capital indefinitely.
The current clashes will place pressure on the Syrian regime being hit at the heart of its security stronghold in Damascus which dispels the idea that Assad can do away with the opposition completely and retake strategic control of the country, a matter which has been discussed since the start of the revolution.
This battle reaffirms the ability and determination of the Free Syrian Army to carry out successful military operations from the capital to the north and south of the country with the purpose of bringing down the regime. Furthermore, it strengthens the idea that a decisive response from the Syrian opposition is always ready even without any international support to topple the regime.
Since the 31st of December, the Russians, speaking on behalf of the Syrian regime, had promised a nationwide ceasefire that would exclude any demographic changes across the country. However the Syrian regime has since continued to carry out deadly military operations such as that in Wadi Barada and the al-Waer neighbourhood in Homs thinking that it will be part of its final blow to the opposition and marking its official victory as it was portrayed in Idlib. And so the Syrian revolutionaries must use the element of surprise and strike Bashar al Assad in the confines of his own home near the presidential palace in Damascus.
The battle of Damascus is happening simultaneously with a renewed campaign to take Hama province which would open a path into government held city of Hama itself. The air base of Hama is of great importance militarily and is the biggest of its kind in northern Syria. It is used as the starting point for the Syrian Air Force to launch air raids on opposition-held territories.
If the Free Syrian Army is successful in its attempt to take the air base in Hama it would be a great victory for the opposition and one that would curb the reach of the Syrian Air force. It should also be mentioned that there is no official incident that has indicated the present entrance of the opposition into the highly populated city of Hama or even the targeting of key points of the metropolitan and its suburban districts.
Currently the Syrian regime has taken back much of the territory it had lost last week, in and around Damascus, but the battles for areas in Damascus province and Hama province are still raging.
A faction of the Free Syrian Army dubbed Jaish al-Azaa has stated in an official announcement that it would protect the Christian population in Hama province and that it would shelter them from any future confrontations or clashes with the regime. Members of the Free Syrian Army that will engage in the battle for Hama have also stated that they will persevere in their struggle to soften the burden on those fighting in Damascus and to strike a decisive victory in Hama itself.
The Free Syrian Army awaits all the factions of the opposition in Damascus province, including Jaish al Islam which is heavily armed and has a strong presence across the Damascus governorate, to join the revolutionary forces to tilt the balance on the ground in the opposition’s favour. A matter which would allow the FSA to take full control of the Syrian capital Damascus.