Fighting between Islamic terrorists (mainly the ISIL the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also called ISIS) and more moderate rebels has killed over a thousand people in the last two weeks. About half of the dead are ISIL and another 10-15 percent are civilians. The army is taking advantage of this by advancing into areas, especially around Aleppo, where rebels have largely moved off to fight Islamic terrorist rebels nearby. At least five towns or neighborhoods have been retaken by the army because of this. The fighting is largely taking place in six provinces (Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, Hama, Homs and Deir al-Zor) with ISIL. While ISIL only has about 6,000 fighters, most of them are concentrated in the north, around Aleppo and along the Turkish border. Within the rebel movement ISIL is outnumbered about 15 to 1, but in the areas where it is strongest the odds are much lower (often two or three to one) and their fanatic fighting spirit has made then more than a match for the more moderate rebels attacking them. Despite that ISIL has suffered heavily in the last two weeks, probably as much from desertions as from combat losses. Many ISIL fighters are dismayed at having to fight fellow rebels and have gone over to more moderate rebel groups or left Syria in disgust.
If the fighting keeps up much longer ISIL will be less than half the strength it was at the start of the year. While the fighting has stalled in some areas, it is continuing in most places. The defeat of ISIL does not mean the end of al Qaeda in Syria because even more al Qaeda men are fighting against ISIL. The losers here are the Iraqi radicals who dominate the ISIL. Al Qaeda has long had problems controlling its’ Iraqi branch and this is another chapter in that story. Despite the attention paid to the war with ISIL the rebels still control most of the country, or at least dispute control with the security forces.
Continued Russian support for the Assads has prevented the UN from passing resolutions condemning the ongoing government attacks on civilians. These attacks have been more blatant in the last month, as have Syrian efforts to prevent foreign aid from reaching the cold, hungry and often wounded civilians. The Russian government openly boasts (at least inside Russia) of how its backing of the Syrian government against a popular uprising was successful. The biggest success was Russia arranging a chemical weapons disarmament deal in Syria that crippled Western aid for the rebels and, along with thousands of Iranian supplied mercenaries, has the Syrian government on the offensive. While Russia strongly opposes any foreign troops in Syria they are openly calling for foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan. That’s mainly because of the drugs, which are a major problem in Russia, and Islamic terrorists, which are more of a potential threat if Afghanistan ever again becomes a terrorist sanctuary.
Turkish police continue to crack down on Islamic terrorist support groups inside Turkey. In particular this means Islamic “charities” that solicit aid for Syrian refugees but actually (or also) support Islamic terrorist groups fighting in Syria. Border inspections by the Turks are more intense and many attempts to smuggle in weapons and ammo are being detected. It’s more expensive and time consuming to hire smugglers to get this material into Syria via the off-road routes.
In the north, the town of Jarablus is the scene of heavy fighting between moderate and Islamic terrorist rebels. Because the town is so close to the Turkish border many of the casualties are being sent to Turkish hospitals. The fighting has been heavy for over a week and there are often several hundred casualties a day. The Islamic terrorists are using suicide bombers as well as more conventional weapons. The fighting has been going on for two weeks and despite that ISIL has held on to parts of the town.
Taking care of the Syrian refugees has cost Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan over $8 billion so far. Most of this is covered by foreign aid, which is especially important for Jordan where the $2.5 billion cost is more than the government can afford. The refugees now amount to ten percent of the population. The UN is seeking to raise $6.5 billion for Syrian refugees. The largest number of refugees (1.5 million) are in Lebanon with Jordan and Turkey (combined) holding slightly more. Some 15 percent of the Syrian population has fled the country because of the fighting. The government is having some success in getting civilians to halt support for the rebels in exchange for access to food and other essentials.
Israeli intelligence believes that the Syrian rebels will not deliberately attack the convoys of Syrian chemical weapons being driven to the coast to be shipped out and destroyed at sea. Israel is watching the Syrian chemical weapons carefully to ensure none are diverted to Hezbollah or any other Islamic terrorist group. Meanwhile Germany has agreed to destroy (mainly by incineration) 370 tons of the byproducts of the American chemical weapons destruction process (which reduces the chemical weapons to less lethal and sometimes non-lethal components).
The Assads continue to keep the economy going in areas they control with the help of Iran and Russia. Iran supplies the foreign currency and Russia helps get it into the international banking system so the Assads can still buy foreign goods. The best evidence for this is the continued viability of the Syrian currency. The exchange rate for the Syrian pound is currently 140-150 pounds to the dollar. That’s up from 160 a last November, 220 last September and a peak of 300 last August. The exchange rate was 50 pounds to the dollar before the rebellion began in 2011. The change in exchange rates also reflects the failure of the rebels to make much progress in the last few months. Aid from Russia and Iran has kept the Assad government and the Syrian Air Force going. Russian banks are also risking retaliation from the U.S. by helping the Syrian government get around sanctions. Access to foreign currency and foreign goods enables the Assads to maintain the loyalty of some (about a third) of the population. Inflation is still running at about 200 percent a year and that will continue until the economy can be restored.
Qatar has, along with Saudi Arabia, been a major supporter of the Syrian rebels, especially when it came to getting the rebels weapons and ammo. Both these oil-rich countries have many wealthy people who support Islamic terrorist groups, usually via Islamic charities that pass cash and goods to Islamic terrorist groups while also doing legitimate charity work. The U.S. has been after the Gulf oil states for years to crack down on this and there has been some of that. But not enough to halt the flow of aid to the Islamic terrorists. This is again becoming a big issue because the Islamic terrorists in Syria now depend on this aid to survive and they are still getting it, particularly from Qatar. This rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar extends beyond Syria. Qatar supports the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt while the Saudis support the army and political moderates. The pressure from the other Arab states and the West (particularly the U.S.) is forcing Qatar to back away from this support for Islamic radicals. But so far the Islamic terrorists in Syria are still being supplied, although this may just be stuff that was in the pipeline.
Palestinian radical group Hamas has appealed to Palestinian Islamic terrorists defending a Palestinian refugee camp (town) in Syria (outside Damascus) to withdraw. Because of the presence of the Islamic terrorists the Syrian army has cut off supplies to the camp. Hamas is telling the Islamic terrorists there that if they leave the 50,000 Palestinian civilians will get food. The Islamic terrorists aren’t moved by this as they are on a Mission From God. That’s probably why the Islamic terrorists have fired on relief convoys approaching the camps. It is believed that the Islamic terrorists want to use the suffering of the Palestinian civilians to garner more outside support for their cause. This is causing civilians to die from starvation and disease. Not just in this Palestinian camp but in areas throughout the country where the army is trying to starve rebels out of towns and neighborhoods.
January 14, 2014: In northeast Lebanon (the Shia town of Hermel) a car bomb went off. This was near the Syrian border and related to the fighting in Syria. Sunni Islamic terrorists in Lebanon are increasing their attacks on Shia who support the Syrian government.
January 13, 2014: France revealed that it believes some 700 French Moslems are fighting in Syria, many with Islamic terrorist groups. At least twenty of the French Moslems have died in Syria so far.