Throughout the day Friday, Syrian rebels battled to within in a mile of the heart of Damascus seizing army checkpoints and cutting off a key highway three days after Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had launched was reported to be an all out offensive in the surrounding suburbs of Damascus.
It would now seem this was either a preemptive attack to disrupt rebel forces or to enlarge the defense perimeter around the city. The presence of rebels within a mile of the heart of Damascus would indicate this effort has failed.
Damascus is defended by forces the most loyal to Assad which include the Syrian Fourth Division commanded by Assad’s brother Maher Assad and a Syrian Republican Guard division. These troops man heavy fortifications in and around the city center.
Reports from U.N. refugee monitors now estimate a flow of 5,000 people per day crossing Syria’s borders into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and have labeled the sudden increase a “full on mass exodus”. An estimated 787,000 Syrians are already in refugee camps with Turkey bearing the brunt of the influx and the brunt of the costs.
The two countries impacted most by the Damascus fighting are Jordan and Lebanon as they are the closest and entering Israel is not an option at the moment after Palestinian Pres. Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer to allow Palestinian refugees in Syria to transit Israel to the West Bank and Gaza.
It is assumed that Pres. Assad is in Damascus and awaiting the final assault of rebel forces. Though it is also possible he relocated to the Alawite region along the Syrian coast and perhaps has been there for many weeks.
Whether he is in Damascus or not, it is still the national capital and center of government and civil communications in Syria and its fall and capture will be a mortal blow to any prospects of Assad remaining in power. In most conventional wars between two nations throughout history the capture of one side’s capital city was often the end of the war between them.
Cutting off the main highway into Damascus will prevent any large supply convoys of food, ammunition or reinforcements from getting into the city. The Syrian Air Force does not have the massive airlift capability it would take to maintain a supply mission and there is no longer any chance of help from Russia now that their evacuation of Syria has been completed.
Barring some final last hour deal for immunity from war crimes prosecution, Bashar al-Assad’s fate and that of those around him is more or less sealed. The only question will be whether he is captured or killed when Damascus falls to the rebels or if it will happen afterwards when the rebels push on to the Syrian coast from Aleppo and Homs.