Beirut • The Syrian regime appears to have absorbed the shock it suffered in the heaviest blow against it yet in Syria's 17-month-old upheaval a bombing that killed four top aides.
The blast raised opponents' hopes President Bashar Assad could fall soon. Instead he is back on the offensive and has reshuffled his inner circle of loyalists to brace for a long battle in what has become an outright civil war.
Although the president is embattled, he remains surrounded by loyal generals, many who are inextricably tied to the regime and have played a key role in the brutal crackdown against the opposition.
He has already made some progress on the ground. A counter-offensive by the government is gaining momentum and troops have so far been able to recapture neighborhoods in the capital Damascus that rebels overran earlier this month. The government also launched an offensive in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest, where rebels have taken over several areas.
Regime forces have stepped up the use of force. Helicopter gunships have been used more than ever before in the battles with rebels in Damascus and Aleppo. Also this week, warplanes flew over Aleppo, although it was not possible to confirm claims by activists that the fighter jets actually fired on rebels which would be a first since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
A Syrian who fled to Lebanon this week said the regime forces' attacks have intensified.
"Whenever they suspect there is an area where there are (rebel) gunmen, they destroy it," said the man who identified himself as Fawaz and said he had come from the southern province of Daraa, where the uprising began.
Still, the past weeks have shown that the rebels a mix of army defectors and regime opponents who have taken up arms are getting more experienced and sophisticated. That points to Syria's conflict, which anti-regime activists say has already left 19,000 dead, getting even bloodier as both sides try to finish the other by force.
"Syria will get much worse before it gets any better. Assad might fall but he will do his darndest to leave behind a burned down country," said Bilal Saab, a Syria expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "There will be tactical advances and retreats by both, but time and momentum seems to be on the rebels' side."
Assad has suffered a series of setbacks over the past weeks. On July 18, rebels detonated a bomb inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus that killed the defense minister, the head of the National Security Bureau, Assad's brother-in-law and a former defense minister some of Assad's most trusted officers.
Moreover, one of his confidants and longtime friends, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, defected and said Thursday he will work to unite the opposition against the regime. Several diplomats also defected, including the ambassador to Iraq and the former envoy to the United Arab Emirates.
But the regime is bouncing back. It took several days, but troops took back control in Damascus. Regime forces have been battling rebels in Aleppo for days.
Syrian rebels survive regime onslaughtin Aleppo
Beirut • The Syrian government launched an offensive Saturday to retake rebel-held neighborhoods in the nation's commercial hub of Aleppo, unleashing artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships against poorly armed opposition fighters.
Yet after a day of fighting, the rag-tag rebel forces remained in control of their neighborhoods in Syria's largest city, said activists, suggesting they had successfully fought off the government's initial assault.
The international community has raised an outcry about a possible massacre in this city of 3 million but acknowledged there was little they could do to stop the bloodshed. The foreign minister of Russia, a powerful ally of Syria, said it was "simply unrealistic" for the Syrian regime to cede control.
The rebels are estimated to control between a third and a half of the neighborhoods. They began their attempt to wrest this key city from the government's control a week ago. About 162 people have been killed, mostly civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which does not include soldiers in its toll. Some 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011, estimated the group.
It's the motherof all catchphrases
A Syrian newspaper on Saturday used a banner headline to proclaim a high-stakes fight for the city of Aleppo "the mother of all battles." Iraqi president Saddam Hussein famously invoked the same phrase at the beginning of the Gulf War: "The battle in which you are locked today is the mother of all battles," he told the nation in January 1991, days before a deadline to pull out of Kuwait or face U.S. action. Saddam sent "mother of all" into the '90s lexicon, as politicians, TV hosts and headline writers used it as a superlative for everything from parades to Johnny Carson monologues.
But Saddam did not invent the mother of all. The phrase appears in the King James version of the Bible. And Benjamin Franklin used it in an entry in Poor Richard's Almanac to blast gluttony in 1755: "A full belly is the mother of all evil."