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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

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