News / Middle East

Killing in Syria Accelerates as Both Sides Dig In

A Syrian rebel grabs his head as the smoke subsides, during fighting between the two sides in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus. Jan. 13, 2013
A Syrian rebel grabs his head as the smoke subsides, during fighting between the two sides in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus. Jan. 13, 2013
The killing in Syria is accelerating with a surge in fighting across the war-torn country between government forces and rebels. Opposition activists say the death toll in the past three weeks has been the highest since the uprising started against President Bashar al-Assad almost three years ago.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based pro-opposition monitoring group with a network of informants on the ground, 4,959 people died in Syria in the three-week period between January 22 and February 12.

The sharp rise in fighting has come against the backdrop of the second round of peace talks in Geneva, which ended inconclusively on February 14 with the warring sides as far apart as when they started, but activists and analysts say the surge in violence can’t only be blamed on the acrimonious negotiations. Both sides appear still to believe they can win on the battlefield and disillusionment has not set in yet among the combatants, a key factor in civil wars ending and negotiated settlements being reached.

“The average length of civil wars since 1945 has been about 10 years,” according to Barbara Walters, a political scientist at the University of California in San Diego, who maintains a blog on political violence. “This suggests that the civil war in Syria is in its early stages, and not in the later stages.”

Many Syrian refugees and opposition activists are increasingly expressing their fatigue with the fighting and hardship they are enduring. “All I care about is that there will be peace and no more bombardments and we can go back to our normal life where I can have my children living normally. I have no relationship to politics whatsoever. I don’t care if Bashar stays or not, all I want is the peace,” said 28-year-old Ahmed, who fled a few months ago along with his family from the Syrian city of Homs to northern Lebanon.

Both sides see victory on the horizon

But while civilians and activists are exhausted the resolve of most fighters on either side doesn’t seem to be close to being worn down. 

Speaking in a makeshift medical clinic in the Lebanese town of Arsal on the border with Syria, a wounded wispy-bearded Islamist fighter, Alain, says there can be no end to the brutal conflict until the rebels have succeeded in ousting President Assad. “All of us think we can win because we are in the right,” he said.

The 24-year-old, whose right leg was damaged in an airstrike and is now pinned together, adds: “Bashar and his soldiers may have more weapons than us but Allah supports us, so we will win, sooner or later.”

In adjoining rooms in the clinic more than a dozen rebels drawn from different factions, moderate and Islamist, echoed Alain, saying there can be no defeat or any suing for peace or compromise in the struggle to topple the Syrian President.  They all said when sufficiently recovered, they plan to trek across the mountains back into Syria to fight again.

“You can only die once,” one of the fighters remarked defiantly.

The wounded insurgents admitted the rebel infighting that erupted earlier this year in northern Syria and has continued since then has taken its toll on morale among their ranks but they said there could be no going back now in their efforts to rid Syria of  President Assad. Some said they have no alternative: defeat would mean death for them.

Likewise analysts say government soldiers appear ready to fight on. And if anything their morale may be higher entering the fourth year of the war than it was a few months ago, thanks to a series of military gains on the battlefield by the government starting last June with the retaking of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border.

According to Vitaly Naumkin, president of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic and Political studies and a columnist for the website Al Monitor, “the fact that the Syrian army and security forces have shown surprising cohesion and only isolated individuals have deserted so far, with no instances of entire units going over to the rebel side, is seen in Russia as evidence of the strength of the regime’s position.”
 
Military analyst Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, agrees that the lack of unit defections suggests that determination is holding up in government ranks.  He argues dynamics within the Syrian military started changing last summer. Several factors made a difference, he says, including “the injection of between 30,000 to 50,000 Syrian national defense militiamen”, locally based volunteers who have become better organized over time.
 
The biggest difference, though, has come with the assistance provided by Hezbollah, Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement that has backed longtime ally President Assad. Nerguizian estimates there may be as many as 8,000 Hezbollah fighters in Syria and they have helped boost the confidence of government soldiers.
 
“What we are seeing is young veterans, thirty-year-olds, from Hezbollah playing the role of non-commissioned officers, taking the lead, taking Syrian squads under their command, helping them on combined operations without loss of morale,” said Nerguizian.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
February 17, 2014 6:47 AM
28-year-old Ahmed don’t care if Bashar stays or not, all he want is the peace. But "rebels", "insurgents" and US want nothing but Assad's elimination, and don’t care about peace.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More