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Inside Syria

Is the balance of power shifting in Syria?

We discuss if battlefield gains will strengthen the Syrian government's position in any forthcoming peace talks.

Last updated: 24 Nov 2013 12:16
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In recent weeks, Syrian government forces have firmly seized the momentum in the country's civil war, capturing one rebel stronghold after another.

There is a shift of momentum now, but not to a degreee that the regime can retake all of Syria .... The Syrian army is becoming more experienced .... They are fighting and the morale is very high .... [The rebels have] no unity of command, there are differences on the political and ideological level as well as the military level. And they don’t have a game changer as far as the weaponry are concerned.

Elias Hanna, a defense analyst and a retired Lebanese General

The government's recent gains in the outskirts of the capital Damascus, and also in the north outside the largest city, Aleppo, have reinforced President Bashar al-Assad's position.

Analysts say such battlefield gains would strengthen the government's position in any forthcoming peace talks. 

According to Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, in the war in Syria the momentum has shifted and the government forces have made significant advances in recent weeks in what appears to be a new strategy to surround the rebels.

After days of fighting, the army pushed opposition forces out of a number of suburbs close to the capital Damascus, effectively eliminating the rebels' ability to strike the regime in its heartland.

Shortly after that, more fighting close to the Lebanese border gave President Assad's troops an advantage in Qalamoun mountains, an area that was in rebel hands for most of the war and on which they depended for smuggling weapons.

The army has also advanced on rebel strongholds in the north, recapturing several towns around Aleppo and regaining access to previously besieged bases and supply routes.

The government's recent strategy has been steadily reversing expansive gains made by the rebels last year; and have exposed just how vulnerable they are.

I don't think that the momentum has irreversibly shifted .... The [Syrian] regime is not trying to overstretch its resources. What we saw in the last couple of months was the regime trying to consolidate areas that it thought it needed to control to remain in the game if you look forward to a political conversation.

Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute

But several factors have contributed to this: The main one is the strong support the army has received from Shia fighters from Lebanon and Iraq.

The disunity among the different rebel factions with growing disagreements between the western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and fighters linked to al-Qaeda being the second key reason.

Many analysts also cite US policy, which has backtracked on striking the regime after a deal was reached with Russia on Syria's chemical weapons.

Gone are the days of debating the possibility of a no-fly zone and aerial support for the rebels. The international community is now focused on how to destroy Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons.

It is a complicated process and no country has so far volunteered to host the neutralisation process for these chemicals.

In the meantime, that is all good news for Assad whose forces continue to regain territory meaning that if and when peace negotiations take place in Geneva, he would be in a position of strength, not weakness.

Last week a prominent rebel group in Syria lost its leader. Abdel Kader Saleh controlled the Tawhid Brigade, one of the FSA's strongest units.

Under his command the group pushed into Aleppo city last year, seizing large sections of the city. He was injured in shelling from government forces and died from shrapnel wounds.

On Friday, a number of major rebel groups in Syria decided to merge into one group. The new front called the Islamic Front will represent rebel forces from across Syria.

So what is the current military situation in the war-torn country? Will the battlefield gains really strengthen the Syrian government's position in any forthcoming peace talks?

Inside Syria presenter David Foster is joined by guests: Khaled Saleh, the head of the Media Office of the opposition Syrian National Coalition; Elias Hanna, a defense analyst and a retired Lebanese General; and Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

"Things are changing on the ground .... we couldn't shoot down a single one [airplane] about a year ago ... We are trimming his [Assad's] air force's power step by step. Unfortunately it's a painful process and very painful price. But this is a reality when you are facing the 13th largest army in the world."

Khaled Saleh, the head of the media office of the Syrian National Coalition

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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