Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bahsar Assad, right, speaks during a meeting with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, second left, head of Iran's parliamentary committee on national interest and foreign policy, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 22, 2013. Assad said during the meeting that the Middle East is being subjected to plans that targets its stability and unity of its territories. (AP Photo/SANA)
Syrian regime shoring up hold on capital, coast
First Published Apr 22 2013 10:15 pm • Last Updated Apr 22 2013 10:15 pm

Beirut • After watching much of Syria’s territory slip into rebel hands, President Bashar Assad’s regime is focusing on the basics: shoring up its hold on Damascus and the strip of land connecting the capital with the Mediterranean coast.

In the past week, government troops have overrun villages near the Lebanese border and suburbs of Damascus, including two districts west of the capital where activists say regime forces killed more than 100 people. The advances have improved the regime’s footing in strategic areas that are seen as crucial to its survival.

Photos
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In many ways, Assad’s government has little choice at this point in the civil war, analysts say. Rebels have captured much of northern and eastern Syria, seizing control of military bases, hydroelectric dams, border crossings and even a provincial capital. Those areas are home to most of the country’s oil fields, and the losses have deprived the regime of badly needed cash and fuel for its war machine.

But those provinces — Raqqa, Hassakeh and Deir el-Zoura — are located hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the capital. Rebel advances there pose no direct threat to the regime’s hold on Damascus — the ultimate prize in the civil war — and any effort to claw back the lost territory would demand manpower and military hardware, neither of which the regime is inclined to invest at the moment.

Instead, it has used its remaining airbases and military outposts in those areas to shell and bomb the territory it has lost in an attempt to forestall the opposition from establishing an interim administration in the rebel-held regions.

"What’s important for the regime is not to leave any buffer zone, or any security zone for the rebels," said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut.

While keeping the rebels off-balance in the lands it has lost, the regime at the same time has dedicated its resources to Damascus and securing what it widely believed to be Assad’s Plan B — a retreat to the Mediterranean coastal region that is the heartland of his Alawite minority, which views its own survival as being tightly intertwined with that of the regime.

Key to that strategy is control of the corridor running from Damascus to the city of Homs and from there to the coast.

Fighting has flared in the Homs region in recent weeks as the government has pressed its campaign to stamp out rebel-held pockets in the area.

Much of the heaviest fighting has raged near the Lebanese border around the town of Qusair, southeast of Homs, where activists said government troops backed by gunmen linked to Lebanon’s Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group captured the villages of Radwineyeh and Tel al-Nabi Mando.


story continues below
story continues below

"The Qusair area is highly important," said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general and a senior lecturer at the American University of Beirut. "It is critical for Assad because this area is the backyard of Damascus. It is the link between Damascus, Homs and the coastal area, so he can ill afford to lose it."

As government troops have pursued rebels in the Qusair region, regime forces in and around Damascus have also moved against opposition-held suburbs, which anti-Assad fighters have tried to use as a springboard for forays into the capital itself.

With the stakes so high in the battle for the capital, the fighting around Damascus has been particularly fierce, and the regime has used its warplanes and artillery to try to pound rebellious areas into submission.

On Sunday, regime troops seized the suburbs of Jdaidet Artouz and Jdaidet al-Fadel after days of fighting.

Activists said Monday that more than 100 people and possibly many more were killed in the two neighborhoods, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) southwest of Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it has documented 101 names of those killed, including three children, 10 women and 88 men. It added that the death toll could be as high as 250.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, put the death toll at 483. It said most of the victims were killed in Jdaidet Artouz.

The Observatory and the LCC both rely on a network of activists on the ground in different parts of Syria.

Syria’s state news agency said Syrian troops "inflicted heavy losses" on the rebels in the suburbs.

A government official in Damascus told The Associated Press that rebels were behind the killings in Jdaidet al-Fadel. The army found decomposed corpses there after entering the area, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Jdaidet al-Fadel is inhabited mostly by Syrians who fled the Golan Heights after the area was captured by Israel in 1967. Jdaidet Artouz has a large Christian and Druse population — two minority communities that have generally stood by Assad or on the sidelines.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.