Syrian Army troops today launched a large all out offensive in the suburbs surrounding Damascus. Reports from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights officials and unnamed Syrian government sources reported a fierce pre-assault bombardment on levels not seen in several months in the region.
All entry points to Damascus have been closed off and local residents reported unusually intense bombing throughout the day. Syrian security officials who also declined to be identified say that the army has begun a well coordinated offensive throughout the capital city suburbs.
Such an offensive is most likely an attempt to relieve the siege of the capital city by rebel forces, and push their heavy weapons and artillery further out of range of the center of Damascus and/or key government facilities within the city.
Syrian rebels do not as of yet have any apparent air warfare capability, aside from the occasional incidents of Syrian Air Force pilots actually changing sides while on a mission and intentionally bombing government troops instead of their assigned rebel targets.
Yesterday Syrian rebels and Jordanian border forces reported intense ground combat very near to the Syria-Jordan border which claimed the lives of a few Jordanians as well as many Syrians on both sides of the civil war.
It is possible that Assad’s forces are seeking to establish a wider zone of defense in preparation for a breakout to the Alawite region along the Syrian coast, and/or as cover for some form of evacuation or withdrawal of military assets to the border with Lebanon.
Though a previous attempt to do so was met with Israeli airstrikes on Syria out of concern such assets as SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles and possibly WMD were being handed over to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
However, it’s also possible that this is the beginning of Assad’s last stand either to go out in blaze of glory failing a deal for exile without being subjected to war crimes charges and apprehension for trial, or to pressure the rebel opposition and their international supporters to agree to Assad’s terms for stepping down.
Syrian opposition leader Sheik Moaz al-Khatib has now agreed to conduct negotiations with the Syrian government following an informal meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the Munich Security Conference Feb. 1, which was quickly followed by invitations from both Lavrov and the Iranian government to meet to discuss Syrian affairs.
A major policy shift by both nations, it signals tacit acceptance that Assad is finished and that opposition leadership is the future for Syria. The moves came soon after the large seaborne evacuation of Russian personnel and equipment from Syria and the release by Syrian rebel forces of captured Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives supporting Syrian government forces.