The rebels have evolved into dozens of warlord-led groups. The fighters gravitate to the most successful leaders. Often that means joining a group led by veteran Islamic terrorists. These guys are often not Syrian but they are ruthless and effective. The Islamic terrorists are the most effective fighters and often the best financed. In addition to money from wealthy Gulf Arabs (sometimes via Islamic charities) they also manage to grab some of the aid that is supposed to go to all rebels, except the Islamic radicals. The Islamic terror groups, especially those led by foreigners, have no problem selling captured assets (cars, factories, office buildings full of stuff) to Turkish or Lebanese gangsters, who will move the goods out of Syria and into the black market for stolen goods. The Islamic terrorists use these same contacts to obtain medical supplies, ammo, or even some weapons. Smugglers are having a grand time. Business has never been better and the Islamic terrorists are the best customers.
A popular import item (legally or otherwise) is portable heaters and fuel for them. The region is suffering from record cold, with freezing weather sometimes showing up in daylight and there is a lot more snow than the locals have seen in a long time. The Islamic terror groups have proved better at organizing food, fuel, and other supplies for the many civilians in battle zones. Even if these people still have their homes, they often lack food, fuel, and electricity. While most Syrians appreciate any help they can get in these trying times, they also know what the Islamic terrorists did in Iraq and other Arab countries. The success of the Islamic terror groups means that once the Assad government is gone there will be another civil war between the democrats and the Islamic terrorists (who want a religious dictatorship). Even now non-radical rebel groups are becoming more wary around the Islamic terrorist led outfits.
The government has launched a propaganda campaign, proclaiming battlefield victories and eventual success. This is another indication that the Assads are unwilling to make any political deals to achieve peace and are determined to go down fighting. Some towns and villages do change hands several times and the government is declaring any occupation of a village or town by the army as a great victory. Some of these victories are not talked about, like a recent one in which a pro-government militia moved into an undefended Sunni village and murdered over a hundred people.
There are over 600,000 refugees outside Syria, another two million inside the country, and several million more who have lost regular access to food, fuel, and electricity supplies. In the capital (Damascus) the government has increased shelling and bombing of pro-rebel neighborhoods. By killing or driving all civilians out of these areas the government troops can move in and claim a victory. The civilians increasingly prefer to flee the troops, who often use rape to terrorize pro-rebel populations.
The government is running out of cash and that’s not a surprise to anyone. Iranian cash still gets in but apparently less of it. A new round of sanctions against Iran last year has meant Iran has a lot less money to work with. Sanctions against the Assads have made it difficult to access money stashed in foreign banks. The rebels have also had money and supply problems. Western and Arab governments are reluctant to supply a lot of weapons, lest they end up with Islamic terrorist groups (who are more aggressive in grabbing supplies sent to the rebels). Arab countries don’t have the military or management resources to get more help to the rebels and discourage Western nations from helping out, as this would be embarrassing to all Arabs. Overcoming this attitude is difficult, and in the meantime the rebels could die of embarrassment.
January 16, 2013: In the north (Idlib province) a car bomb went off in a pro-government area, killing 22. In nearby Aleppo two bombs went off in the university, killing 87. The government blamed the university attack on the rebels and the rebels blamed it on the government.
The government has removed all government rules on imports. For a dictatorship like Syria, this is a big deal because economic controls were always a major tool for controlling the nation and obtaining cash. But the economy is breaking down because rebels occupy so many border crossings and key roads. By allowing private firms to import freely, more goods will also reach government areas. While most Syrians are not experiencing any fighting, they are feeling the economic disruptions. Many export goods are not getting out and a growing number of essential imports are not getting in. While major foreign firms have backed off from trading with Syria, there are many smaller firms, especially in Eastern Europe, that are willing to hustle for the business, despite the international sanctions. Syria’s few ports are still controlled by pro-Assad populations and the army devotes a lot of resources to protecting roads from the coast to pro-government areas in central Syria. The north is largely a combat zone and the east, which has long been largely Sunni, is pretty much out of government control.
January 13, 2013: Qatar has again called for the formation of an Arab military force to intervene in Syria, probably via Jordan. There is not a lot of enthusiasm for this but the continued fighting in Syria is an embarrassment to the entire Arab world. Arabs are opposed to Western intervention. This includes Turkey, which while Moslem is a member of NATO and the former imperial power (the Ottoman Turk Empire) that ruled most Arab lands for centuries (until 1918). The Turks were not gentle and they were an alien culture. Arabs do not remember the Turkish occupation fondly.