August 7, 2013: The rebels have wisely kept open communications with minority communities in Syria and this has led to some pro-government militias disbanding. The SNC (Syrian National Council) is the main rebel political organization and it has to spend a lot of effort maintaining unity. The Kurds (ten percent of the population) are demanding more autonomy than many other SNC members are willing to approve. The Palestinians (1.7 percent of the population) is considered unreliable, although a large number of them are pro-rebel. Other minorities, like Turkmen (4 percent), Iraqis (4 percent), Assyrians (4 percent) and Druze (3 percent) have traditionally been well treated by the Assads, in return for loyalty. But many of the minority people are changing their minds. The main support of the government is based on religion. Some 75 percent of the population is Sunni Moslem. The Sunni have long been the main victims of the Assad dictatorship. Most of Syria's neighbors are Sunni, and this has kept anti-Assad attitudes alive. Now, all this hatred is coming out. Shia Moslems, dominated by Alawites (12 percent), with the remainder of the population Druze and Christians are generally considered the enemy by most Sunni Syrians. The Shia are particularly nervous, because the Sunni conservatives openly call Shia (particularly Alawites) heretics and subject to extermination. Even so some Shia, even some Alawites, now side with the rebels, despite trust issues. While the Islamic radical rebel groups consider all non-Sunnis as the enemy, the SNC takes a more tolerant view and had had some success in persuading minorities (even some Alawites) that a post Assad government would be inclusive and, yes, that would mean more fighting to deal with Sunni Islamic radical attempts to impose a religious dictatorship. Meanwhile the Islamic terror groups are useful, in a grim way, because they have increasingly used terror tactics on pro-Assad civilians, in some cases killing entire families.
Many American counter-terrorism experts believe that Syria will become a major terrorist threat as long as it is a magnet for Islamic terrorists from all over the world and that even if the Islamic radicals are not able to seize control of Syria once the Assad government falls, they will probably have part of the country and will be using that as a base for further attacks. Most of the neighbors (Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon) are already experiencing problems from Islamic terrorist groups in Syria. They expect this to get worse once the Assads are defeated.
The capture of a military airbase outside Aleppo means that the remaining troops in the city will come under even more pressure. Capturing all of Aleppo would be a major victory for the rebels who have been fought to a standstill in the last two months by the arrival of Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements and Shia mercenaries recruited from Iraq and other countries by Iran. That has saved the Assad forces from collapse because the army and other security forces are suffering from morale problems after more than two years of rebel attacks. Most of the Assad forces are tied down guarding Damascus and surrounding areas in central Syria as well as the coastal area in the northwest. The rebels are dominant in the north (with the Kurds holding the northeast), the west and the southern border areas. As recent attacks along the coast demonstrated, the rebels can get into “government controlled” areas and launch attacks. This is especially true of the Islamic radical groups, who are into suicide attacks and doing whatever it takes to win.
In Lebanon Hezbollah is under more pressure, and public criticism, from the Christian and Sunni majority because of Hezbollah actively entering the Syrian civil war on the side of the dictatorship. Syria is hated by most Lebanese because Syria considers Lebanon a “lost province” and has never been shy about letting that be known. A new Syrian government will likely be friendlier towards Lebanon (if only because most Lebanese favor the rebels) and Hezbollah is seen as acting like a traitor to Lebanese independence by supporting the Syrian government. Christian leaders have usually been discreet in their public criticism of Hezbollah because that pro-Iranian organization has assassinated several outspoken Christian leaders. But now the public criticism is being heard again and Hezbollah leaders are the ones that are feeling fear.
On the Israeli border Israeli troops have noted less activity from the other side. The rebels appear to control most of the border and are not usually hostile to Israelis. This is largely due to Israeli pledges to respond with lots of force if there is any cross-border violence. On the Lebanese border Hezbollah gunmen have made it much more difficult to get weapons and other supplies into Syria for rebels close to the frontier.
August 6, 2013: In the capital a car bomb went off in a pro-Assad neighborhood, killing 18 and wounding 56. Most of the victims were Christians or Druze. This bomb hit about an hour after one (or perhaps two) large missiles hit a Palestinian refugee neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. While the Assads have been good to the Palestinians over the decades, many of the younger Palestinians in Syria back the rebels and that has led to fighting in Palestinian neighborhoods.
For the second time in a week Jordanian police have arrested Syrians trying to smuggle weapons into Jordan. This shipment contained anti-tank missiles, surface-to-air missiles and assault rifles and was believed to be for Islamic radicals in Jordan who want to overthrow the monarchy (as they have been doing for decades). Five men were arrested when the weapons were seized. Jordan has allowed U.S. and Arab Gulf State weapons to be smuggled from Jordan into Syria and fears that some of these weapons are ending up with Islamic radical rebel groups that sell some of them to Islamic radicals inside Jordan.
Nearly two million Syrian refugees are living outside the country in UN camps. The UN is losing control of these camps as criminal gangs and Islamic radical groups are more active among the refugees. The gangsters steal foreign aid supplies and attack women while the Islamic radicals recruit teenagers for combat and terrorism. Organizing some kind of police force has been difficult, as it usually is in these (all-too-common) refugee camp situations. More ...
From Arab Saga we have this firsthand combat report:
Syrian rebel tanks roll into the frontline
Monday, 5 August 2013
I have seen tank kills by Syrian rebels using anti-tank guided missiles.I have also seen rebels driving away tanks captured from Syrian army facilities.But it is the first time I see rebels in a tank formation rolling into Reef Dimashq (see above my screen grabs from a video posted on YouTube yesterday afternoon).As I hinted in yesterday’s post, the Syrian rebels seem to have seized back the military initiative, launching major offensives against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on several fronts.They used tanks and heavy artillery to advance to within 12 miles of the Assad family’s mountain hometown of Qardaha in the province of Latakia, according to activists and human rights groups quoted by the Washington Post.Videos posted by rebel groups on YouTube showed tanks firing on mountain villages and rebel groups raising their flags over captured government positions in four villages belonging to members of Assad’s minority Alawite-cum-Shiite sect.The Latakia Coordination Committee said scores of Alawites had fled from the countryside into the city.Charles Lister of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center said the scale of the offensive, which appeared to be the biggest yet in Assad’s heartland, would come as a blow to the recent confidence displayed by the regime.
Rebels in the northern province of Aleppo are meanwhile pounding Aleppo’s central prison ahead of storming it to free some 4,000 men and women being held there.
Aleppo's central prison under fire
They are also threatening to seize Nubl and Zahra, two Shiite villages loyal to Assad. Activists say Assad’s allies, among them fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, had reinforced both villages.
The rebels had earlier revealed a list of six demands, including the surrender of Assad forces and their weapons, followed by a power sharing deal between the villagers and the rebels. More...
From Arab Saga we have this report of the oppositions advances in Latakia:
Syrian rebels push advance into Assad heartland
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
Alawite cleric Ghazal in captivity (R) and earlier in military fatigue next to UralSyrian rebels are pushing toward President Bashar al-Assad's hometown of Qardaha in Latakia province.By Monday, the second day of their surprise offensive in the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite-cum-Shiite sect, the rebels had captured some 11 Alawite villages.The villages include Aramo, 20 kilometers from Qardaha, and Baruda, where the rebels seized visiting Alawite cleric Badreddin Ghazal, a diehard Assad militant.You can see above a photo of Sheikh Ghazal in military fatigue standing alongside Mihraç Ural aka Ali al-Kayyali, the man I dubbed in May “the ethnic cleanser of Banias,” who was also suspected of masterminding the twin Turkish bombings in Reyhanli.There is already talk of a “prisoner swap” underway, which would see Ghazal released in exchange for setting free the women held by Assad’s shabiha in Latakia’s sports stadium."The rebels are not far from Qardaha, and the threat to Qardaha has moved from being conceivable to being a real one," Sheikh Anas Ayrout, a member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) who is from the coastal city of Banias, told Reuters.Monzer Makhous, the SNC representative to France and future Syrian ambassador in Paris who belongs to the Alawite community, tells the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, “The Free Syrian Army’s advance into the coastal region is vital, if only to prevent the regime from carving out a sectarian canton” there. More...