Syrian rebels, engaged in a mighty struggle for Damascus, have pushed further into the city than ever before in the two year-old civil war. They have advanced as far as Damascus suburbs in the past, but now, in what they are calling the “Battle of Armageddon,” rebel brigades have moved from the suburbs to the edges of Damascus proper, battling security forces in the streets. In retaliation the regime has launched airstrikes on rebel positions in its own capital city and sent tanks to reclaim vital roadways and transportation hubs.
“A new level of alarm and disorder has suffused the city,” write Anne Barnard and an unnamed undercover reporter in Damascus for the NYT. “Soldiers have swept through city neighborhoods, making arrests ahead of a threatened rebel advance downtown, even as opposition fighters edge past the city limits, carrying mortars and shelling security buildings.”
But the rebels’ target remains out of reach. Central Damascus is well-fortified. Assad’s palace sits on a hill overlooking the city, surrounded by the loyal, elite troops of the Republican Guard. “Right now no one is capable of winning,” an Arab envoy in Damascus told Reuters. “It is deadlock.”
It’s beginning to look as if Assad will be able to hold on much longer than many in the West expected and hoped. If this war drags on, with neither side able to break the stalemate, armed gangs and sectarian militias, some of which are already receiving weapons and support from international backers, might come to govern their own little patches of territory in what we once called Syria.