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Syria: The Blame Game
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November 2, 2012: Unable to halt, much less reverse, the rebel advances, the government has apparently ordered its air force to make maximum attacks on civilians who are supporting the rebels. The idea is that the civilians will cease sheltering and supplying the rebels in order to avoid more of this. On the 29th the air force made its biggest daily effort ever, carrying out 60 attacks in 24 hours. Before that the number of daily attacks had averaged 20 a day and had stayed at that level for months.

The aircraft are using dumb bombs, so they are only effective against large targets, like residential neighborhoods or villages. Because the rebels now have portable anti-aircraft missiles, warplanes have to bomb from high altitude (over 6,000 meters/20,000 feet). That reduces accuracy even more. Each of these attacks causes, on average, more than 20 casualties. Few of the victims are armed rebels and most of the attacks are occurring in areas where there are no government ground troops nearby. This strategy is not working, which the government already knew, from areas where civilians had been bombed for weeks and continued to hate the Assad dictatorship. The air raids drive people out of their homes and some flee the country. But there’s not enough of that to allow government troops to retake lost ground. The government is desperate and unwilling to surrender control of the country.

The heavier air force effort has been going on for a week now and the warplanes are wearing out. Even transport helicopters are being used. These cannot use aircraft bombs so they drop improvised weapons (barrels full of explosives and scrap metal or oil). Many of these improvised bombs don’t explode and the scattered fragments tell the tale.

Iran has sent in dozens of small UAVs, which are being used to spot targets for artillery and air strikes. This has made it more difficult for the rebels, who cannot move around as freely as they used to. The army also has problems getting around, mainly because the rebels control sections of the highway from Damascus (where the largest military bases and supply stockpiles are) and Aleppo (the second largest city, with a population of 2.5 million). In particular, the rebels took control of Maaret al Numan, in early October. This town is on the highway and the army has failed in at least three major attacks to get the rebels out. As long as the rebels block the highway government troops in the northwest are facing a growing shortage of food, fuel, ammo, and reinforcements. These shortages hurt morale and encourage more soldiers to desert. Those who remain begin to think surrender isn’t such a bad idea. Even some of the officers and NCOs are losing heart, and Basher Assad knows it.

In addition to the main highways, the rebels are increasing pressure on air bases and the artillery units pounding rebel positions. The government now finds that it has to use more of its dwindling manpower to guard the bases and artillery units. Moving artillery has now become a major operation because rebels try to ambush the artillery battalions on the road.

South of Damascus, in the largest Syrian refugee camps (Yarmouk, population 150,000, about 30 percent of the Palestinians in Syria), fighting continued between Palestinians loyal to the camp leadership (a Palestinian terrorist organization, which has long enjoyed the support of the Assads) and Palestinians who support the rebels. Palestinians realize that if the rebels win, and it looks like they will, they will be driven out unless pro-rebel Palestinians take control of Palestinian refugee camps (which are actually separate towns or neighborhoods occupied and run by Palestinians). Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that controls Gaza, had long received support from the Assads. But under pressure from major donors (oil-rich Sunni Arabs) to oppose the Iran-backed Assads, Hamas has switched sides. Earlier this year Hamas moved its headquarters out of Syria and openly denounced the Assaads. Hamas apparently also told the Syrian Palestinians to oppose Assad if they wanted Hamas and other Arab states to persuade the new rebel government to allow “loyal” Palestinians to remain and avoid retribution. Palestinians are 1.7 percent of the population.

Despite the success of the rebels on the battlefield, the U.S. has openly called for a new rebel leadership group. The Americans believe that the SNC (Syrian National Council) has been unable to effectively unite all the anti-government factions. In particular the United States wants a rebel leadership that does not include Islamic terrorist groups in the rebel coalition. The rebels believe they cannot do that because the Islamic rebels are the most fanatic fighters and provide most of the manpower and expertise for suicide attacks. These terrorist attacks are a major combat advantage for the rebels. At present the rebels believe they are getting more battlefield assistance from the Islamic terrorists than from the Americans. Western countries want to intervene but are reluctant to do so without UN approval and that is being withheld because of the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council. Many Turks want to intervene but most don’t.  The U.S. has said that it would intervene if the Syrians used chemical weapons. Arabs are beginning to blame the West of deliberately not intervening (as they did in Libya) in order to get more Arabs killed.

November 1, 2012: In Damascus three bombs went off in a pro-Assad residential neighborhood. One person was killed and two wounded. Most of the residents were shaken by the ability of the rebels to get into their well-guarded neighborhood.

October 30, 2012: For the first time warplanes bombed rebel targets inside Damascus, the capital and home of the most dedicated Assad supporters. Elsewhere in Damascus rebels ambushed and killed a senior air force general.

October 29, 2012: The four-day ceasefire ended, without much cessation of fire. Over 500 people died during the ceasefire, mainly because some rebel factions did not agree to the ceasefire and kept attacking. Government forces responded with more artillery fire and air raids. In Damascus two car bombs went off, killing at least twelve people. Several Syrian artillery shells again fell on the Turkish side of the border. Nearby Turkish artillery returned fire.

October 27, 2012: In Aleppo fighting broke out between rebels and 200 Kurdish gunmen who arrived in a Kurdish neighborhood to, as they put it, celebrate an upcoming religious holiday. Something went wrong and 22 people were killed and 180 rebels surrendered. The Kurds have so far remained neutral in the civil war, and if they joined the government it would be a serious defeat for the rebels. There are believed to be 100,000 armed Kurds in Syria but they are also split into many factions,

October 26, 2012: After much effort by the UN, the government and the rebels agreed to a four-day truce (coinciding with a major Moslem holiday).

October 25, 2012: Saudi Arabia expelled three Syrian diplomats for unspecified but apparently inappropriate actions.

In Damascus artillery fired into a pro-rebel neighborhood.

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