A bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded in Damascus on Wednesday morning outside a hotel where United Nations observers were staying. The Free Syrian Army says it was responsible for the attack - but that it was not trying to target UN monitors and was instead aiming for a meeting of army officers.
"Syria has become a war by proxy, a theatre, a battlefield .... So it is far from the beginning of the end."
- Fawaz Gerges, the director of the Middle East Centre at the LSE
The attack near the famous Umawiyeen Square, close to the headquarters of the Syrian armed forces, is the latest in a wave of explosions in the Syrian capital following the recent defection of the country's former prime minister. Riad Hijab, who defected last week, says the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is close to collapse.
"I confirm that the regime is decaying - morally, financially and economically," Hijab said. "It is also militarily deteriorating. It is losing ground and is in control of no more than 30 per cent of the country."
US officials have accused Iran of increased meddling in Syria. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claim Iran is building a militia to help al-Assad's forces.
"We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us that that's taking place," Dempsey said.
Iran most recently held a summit to counter Western involvement in the region and to broker the start of a political settlement. That meeting was attended by 30 countries – among them China and Russia.
But as the fighting and diplomatic wrangling continues, the situation for civilians is getting worse. Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, was in Syria to push the government for better access for aid agencies. She says both sides are to blame for the humanitarian crisis.
"I find the responsibility rests on all those involved in the fighting," Amos said. "They are putting ordinary men, women and children at risk. We are seeing atrocities and human rights abuses being carried out by all parties. We all want the fighting to stop, everyone I have spoken to, those people who have to leave their homes because of the fighting and others, all say they want a chance to go home and to get back to their normal lives."
So in this episode of Inside Story, we ask: Is the al-Assad regime close to collapse? Or is it still being bolstered by its allies?
Discussing this with presenter Shiulie Ghosh are guests: Elias Farhat, a retired general and former leader of the Lebanese army who is now a military and political analyst; Samir Altaqi, the director-general of the Orient Research Centre and a former consultant to Bashar al-Assad; and Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics (LSE).
"What does it mean when al-Qaboun, which is within Damascus itself, is occupied more than 32 times? That means that Bashar al-Assad has lost political hegemony. When the tanks are there, it can kill, it can destroy, it can arrest but once those forces are withdrawn, politically speaking those regions are no more loyal .... Really it means [that in] about 60 to 65 per cent of areas there is no state on the ground."
Samir Altaqi, a former consultant to President Bashar al-Assad