MESOP NEWS TODAYS TOP OF THE AGENDA : Damascus Clashes Intensify Amid Surprise Attack / Analysis by AP / CHATHAM HOUSE / REUTERS BBC / AL HAYAT

Council on Foreign Relations Newsletter

Damascus Clashes Intensify Amid Surprise Attack

Clashes continued into Monday in Damascus after rebels carried out a surprise attack by infiltrating government-controlled parts (AP) of the city through tunnels on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported violent clashes in northeastern districts of the city (Reuters) following the attack. Last Wednesday, a suicide bombing outside the city’s main courthouse killed at least thirty-one (BBC) as a separate bombing at a restaurant injured more than twenty people. The two attacks came on the six-year anniversary of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


“With the recapture of the city of Aleppo last December, President Bashar al-Assad’s army reinforced its dominant position across most of the country. Since then it has been trying to break down rebel resistance in Damascus and reassert full control of the capital after six years of war. The army and its militias have for months been targeting Eastern Ghouta, the biggest remaining rebel bastion near Damascus, while making only incremental gains,” Ellen Francis and Suleiman al-Khalidi write for Reuters.

“Ineffective Western support for ‘pragmatic’ armed groups, such as battalions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), over the past two years has contributed to the strengthening of extremist groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which have presented themselves to local populations as more efficient and better-resourced alternatives in the fight against the regime. The situation on the ground is evolving towards the division of armed groups in rebel areas into two camps—one ‘extremist’ and the other ‘pragmatic’—with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham seeking to overwhelm or assimilate other groups,” writes a group of researchers for Chatham House.

“The final phase of the Syrian conflict may be protracted, but options for the opposition are narrowing at an accelerating pace. One opposition think tank has bravely insisted that ‘nobody [meaning Turkey] can impose on the opposition an unfair settlement it does not want,’ but another concluded more realistically that the opposition is ‘all but strategically defeated.’ The only possible consolation is that a genuinely broad political opposition, grassroots social activism, and new cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic coalitions cannot revive without an end to the armed conflict,” Yezid Sayigh writes for Al Hayat.