Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah, reaffirmed his commitment to the Bashar al-Assad regime on Tuesday, saying that if Assad falls, so too does Hezbollah. Last Thursday, Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the Syrian Defense Minister, visited Tehran to discuss military coordination and cooperation between the two countries. Meanwhile, emerging reports indicate that the Assad regime has killed more than 11,000 civilians through the use of barrel bombs throughout the country since 2012. The current civil war in Syria has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced more than 11 million. The latter number represents half of the country’s population. Part of Bashar al-Assad’s strategy has reportedly been to purposely displace residents of opposition-held territory through such acts as barrel bombing and the use of chlorine gas, forcing them to flee to regime-held territory, so that Assad can claim that he has legitimate control over the bulk of Syria’s populace. Iran has offered staunch support to Assad: Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently said that Iran has been sending as much as $35 billion a year to prop up the Assad regime.
Recent reports have indicated that momentum may be shifting against the regime. Opposition forces launched an attack on Monday against Hezbollah in the Qalamoun area to preempt an expected offensive. A Hezbollah commander was reportedly killed in the clashes. This area is strategically important because the highway connecting Damascus to the coast runs through it and because it contains logistical routes connecting Syria and Lebanon that are crucial to both the regime and the opposition. Gains have been reported in key points in the south of the country as well as the northern cities of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur. The capture of these two cities threatens the territorial continuity between Damascus and the coastal heartland of the Alawis, the minority group from which the Assad family comes and from which the regime receives much of its support.