Weekend Syria Roundup

Well it is almost the weekend; in any case a good time to take another survey of the situation in Syria.

I – Quneitra
The main ‘header image’ of this blog is the view of Syria from Mt. Bental, located on the Israeli-controlled Golan. It is this same area that is depicted above, clearly engulfed in heavy fighting. The central city in this area is Quneitra, which has been subject to various reports over recent days. On the one hand the rebels claimed to have conquered Quneitra, on the other hand the government has claimed to have retaken it. Most worrisome, perhaps, is that the fighting has led Austria to withdraw its 380 soldiers from the 1100 strong UNDOF peace-keeping force in the area. Of course it can asked what is the use of peace keeping forces if they leave at the sign of trouble. But in any case, clearly the unraveling of  UNDOF does nothing to decrease risks of conflagration on the Israeli-Syrian border. (On the other hand, it would seem Assad and Hezbollah have every reason to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel at this point, since such a scenario could see the reversal of their recent gains in the Syrian civil war.)

II – Qusayr and Beyond
Meanwhile, the biggest story to come out of Syria this week is of course the rebel loss of Qusayr. (A good further account is here).

But while much has been written about Qusayr itself, more interesting is Jean Aziz’s important piece in which he places this Assad victory in a further string of vital military efforts by the Syrian government. In particular, Assad seems to have made great progress in his strategic emphasis on securing safe access and transport routes to and from Syria’s critical urban centers. Here again, it would seem, the advantages of having a trained military over an amateurish rebellion come to the fore. Here is the critical passage from the Aziz article:

“our sources went even further to confirm that Qusair’s fall came after other extremely important military accomplishments in Syria, such as the opening of a safe and direct military route from Damascus to Aleppo in the north, completely separate from the international highway that already existed between the two cities. It is a 122-kilometer [75-mile] road that was built during the last seven months and only passes through areas controlled by the regime, while bypassing the few insurgent pockets that exist between these two main Syrian cities.

In this regard, it should be noted that a number of those pockets were permanently “dealt with” when the new road was being built. In parallel, a second military road, approximately 20 kilometers [12 miles] in length, was opened between Aleppo and its airport. A third road nearing completion starts in Aleppo, passes through the two predominantly Shiite cities of al-Nubl and al-Zahraa, which are in Aleppo’s countryside and encircled by Jabhat al-Nusra jihadists, and ends at the Ming Airport adjacent to the Syrian-Turkish border.

These sources thus revealed to us that transport and supply routes able to accommodate personnel, logistics, armament, and material needs have been secured between all main Syrian areas controlled by the regime. These are routes that will be put to use in more than one direction now that Qusair has fallen. They will first be used to control the Damascus countryside and Eastern Ghouta, thereby closing the last remaining gap in the border with Lebanon, namely Arsal.

Afterward, all options become possible, such as moving south toward Daraa to close the border with Jordan, or north all the way to the Turkish border.”

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