Damascus: The Walls Are Rising

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Syrian fire fighters douse burning cars with water at the scene of a deadly car bomb explosion which rocked central Damascus on 8 April 2013. (Photo: Louai Beshara)

By: Hassan Illeik

Published Monday, April 8, 2013

The Syrian army has conducted a number of surprise attacks in the Damascus countryside, encircling the eastern Ghouta – the belt of farmland to the south and east of the city – in a bid to expand the “secure ring” around the capital.

After repeated claims that the Syrian opposition was preparing for a large-scale assault on the capital, the Syrian army caught its foes by surprise in separate attacks throughout the Damascus countryside. According to high-level Syrian sources, an assault by the Syrian opposition on the capital would now be extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible.

The army began its offensive in Daria, an area close to the Sayyida Zainab shrine south of Damascus. Official sources said that the army liberated most of Daria from the rebels, though the area is not completely secure.

The major development, however, took place in the eastern Ghouta, where the Syrian army came to the aid of a battalion that had been under siege for weeks. The offensive was launched in the vicinity of the Damascus International Airport, and has effectively severed the opposition’s supply routes. Scores were killed or injured in the fighting, according to Syrian officials.

For their part, Syrian opposition sources confirmed that the eastern Ghouta is practically under siege, and spoke about preparations underway to fend off army attacks.

Official sources asserted that the above developments are proof that the regular army has fully regained the initiative. Other informed sources claimed that the army has greatly improved its intelligence-gathering and reconnaissance operations, and infiltrated the armed rebel groups.

On the political front, Syrian sources maintained that last week’s military developments would impact the ongoing negotiations over the crisis. They noted that US President Barack Obama had given his Russian counterpart two months to return to serious negotiations on Syria.

The same sources said that the recent army developments would prompt the countries backing the armed opposition to re-adjust their outlooks on Syria.

Military developments have also extended to the rest of the country. The Syrian army has managed to wrest control of several locations from the armed opposition in Aleppo and its countryside. In Homs, the Syrian army continues to make slow progress inside the city, as it attempts to break the opposition’s control of certain neighborhoods.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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