May 28, 2012: The Syrian government is having an increasingly hard time maintaining the facade of affluence and normalcy for its core supporters. Most of these people live in Damascus and Aleppo but these two cities are the scene of more and more rebel attacks, anti-government demonstrators, and Islamic terror bombings. This has not been good for morale and a growing number of Assad supporters (at least those most likely to face retaliation) are planning their escapes.
Eleven Lebanese Shia, kidnapped by Sunni gunmen in Syria last week, are being held for ransom. The rebels want to get the Syrian government to release imprisoned Syrian rebels. The Lebanese were returning from a pilgrimage to Iran.
Hezbollah announced that it does not have, and never has had, gunmen in Syria. But numerous known Hezbollah men have been seen in Syria during the last year, some openly helping Syrian security forces fight rebels. Hezbollah has lied before and is apparently reacting to the anti-Syrian government attitude in Lebanon. Hezbollah and the Assads have been allies for decades and that history is hurting the Hezbollah image in Lebanon.
The UN believes that the 271 observers they have in Syria are reducing violence. Soon all 300 observers will be there, but some UN members want even more. Syrian rebels are again calling for foreign air support, preferably an operation similar to the NATO one in Libya last year. NATO has again refused. NATO air support depends on what NATO member Turkey wants to do. As the strongest Moslem military power in the area, and the former imperial ruler of Syria (until 1918), the Turks have to take the lead here. At the moment the Turks are reluctant to take the heat from the Moslem world for leading a NATO intervention. Arabs do not remember the centuries of Turk rule with much fondness. Turkey is trying to rebuild its reputation and influence in the Arab world and sees that effort damaged if Turk troops (or aircraft) are once more seen killing Arabs.
Nearly 13,000 have died since the protests began 14 months ago. Since the UN ceasefire officially went into effect April 12, at least 1,500 have died. The Assad dictatorship is getting weaker but slowly. Iran stands ready to provide at least a billion dollars a month in cash to help the government import weapons, food, and other supplies for its supporters. Russia and Iran continue to send weapons despite blockades. While major suppliers of food and other goods will no longer ship to Syria, smugglers and less scrupulous suppliers will, for an additional fee. Even in rebel controlled areas, there is growing hunger and privation because the economy is stalled and in chaos. Moreover, the government troops can still take control of roads, blocking easy access to rebel controlled towns and villages. While some believe the Assads can't last beyond the end of the year, others feel that Iranian and Russian support make it possible for Assad to last longer, unless the Turks make a military move. As has been the case for over six hundred years, the fate of Syria will be decided by Turkish troops.
The Syrian rebels continue to be hobbled by religious, ethnic, and political differences. For decades the Assads exploited these differences to suppress the opposition and Iran has sent media and security experts to help the Assads to keep doing that even though the opposition is more united than it has ever been before.
The Iranian experts have their work cut out for them because even members of the Alawite community are now supporting the rebels. These Alawites point out that for decades dissent (from whatever the Assads wanted) was not tolerated and that the Alawites have much to gain from the overthrow of the Assads. With this kind of talk the Assads are reminded that they cannot even trust their Alawite brethren.
The FSA (
Free Syrian Army) has bases in Turkey and Lebanon. FSA also has more weapons and equipment (especially radios and satellite phones, as well night vision gear) to distribute but there are still organizational and trust problems. While most FSA members served in the Syrian military, a growing number of young volunteers did not. These guys require some training, otherwise they will quickly get killed. The factionalism (usually because of religion or politics) makes it difficult to know who you can trust or rely on. It's like herding cats, only these felines have assault rifles, short tempers, and divided loyalties.
A growing FSA problem is the increased presence of al Qaeda (and similar organizations) in Syria. These guys are on a Mission from God and not inclined to take orders, or even advice, from the FSA. Moreover, the FSA (or at least most members) want a democracy, while al Qaeda wants a religious dictatorship.
May 27, 2012: In Iran a military official bragged that Iranian soldiers in Syria were helping to limit the number of civilians Syrian troops were killing.
In Damascus police conducted several raids in pro-rebel neighborhoods, after a bomber went off in a popular restaurant.
Kuwait warned its citizens to stay away from Syria, where increasing violence made it very dangerous for foreign visitors.
May 25, 2012: In Homs security forces killed over 100 civilians and there were plenty of witnesses with cameras. Turkey and the UN were quick to condemn the Syrian government. Turkey is calling on the international community to ensure that the Syrian officials responsible are punished. Russia used its Security Council veto to prevent the UN from making an official condemnation of Syria. In the meantime, Syria insisted that its troops had nothing to do with any killings in Homs. But the Syrians have lied so often about stuff like this and then been exposed as liars by video and witnesses (and sometimes UN observers) that few believe these denials.