President Basher Assad announced that he would never leave Syria. In other words, he is fighting to the death. In the last week Western countries had approached the Syrians about offering Assad and his family sanctuary if they would stop the fighting and leave the country. This shook the nervous pro-Assad coalition (consisting mostly of Alawites) and Assad had to come out with an announcement that he is staying. But more and more of his followers are moving their families to coastal Syria, where most of the population is Alawite, or, if they can afford it, out of the country. Fighting continues all over, especially in the largest cities (Damascus and Aleppo). Rebels continue to take border crossings away from government troops and block roads, and resupply, for many military bases. The rebels are trying to settle their differences with the 500,000 Palestinians and two million Kurds. Both groups are split on whether to support the rebels or the Assads.
The rebels, despite pressure from Western and Arab supporters (who provide aid, including weapons) have been unable to form a united leadership. There are still many factions that are at odds with each other. The biggest divide is between groups based outside of Syria and those inside the country. Cell and satellite phones make it possible for many of these rebel organizations to communicate but that does not assure cooperation. The government adds to the chaos by making it difficult for foreign aid organizations to work inside Syria. The government will allow aid convoys in but insists on controlling where the aid goes (definitely not to rebels held areas).
The U.S. refuses to provide weapons or training to the rebels, most of that is coming from Arab and Moslem states. The U.S. is particularly upset by the fact that the rebel leadership inside Syria is increasingly at odds with the rebels outside Syria. Despite the success of the rebels on the battlefield, the U.S. has openly called for a new rebel leadership coalition. The Americans believe that the SNC (Syrian National Council) has been unable to effectively unite all the anti-government factions. In particular the United States wants a rebel leadership that does not include Islamic terrorist groups in the rebel coalition. The rebels believe they cannot do that because the Islamic rebels are the most fanatic fighters and provide most of the manpower and expertise for suicide attacks. These terrorist attacks are a major combat advantage for the rebels. At present the rebels believe they are getting more battlefield assistance from the Islamic terrorists than from the Americans. Western countries want to intervene but are reluctant to do so without UN approval, and that is being withheld because of the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council. Many Turks want to intervene but most don’t. For centuries, when Turkey controlled most of the Middle East, the Arabs were very troublesome. Arabs are beginning to accuse the West of deliberately not intervening (as they did in Libya) in order to get more Arabs killed. Most rebels, and Arabs, are disdainful of the U.S. in particular and the West in general for not providing military aid and help in stopping the killing inside Syria. The West believes that whether they intervene or not, they will be criticized by Arabs.
The fighting is killing over a thousand people a week. About a quarter of those are soldiers, while the rest are civilians (including rebel fighters). Most of the dead civilians are unarmed victims hit by the government shelling and bombing of inhabited areas. Sometimes this is done even when there are no armed rebels operating nearby. The government wants to terrorize its population into submission. That’s not working, although a growing number of civilians are fleeing the country (over half a million), or just seeking refuge within Syria (over a million). Over two million people are going hungry and are cut off from most supplies; all this in a country with a population of 22 million.
A lot of the fighting continues on the borders, where rebels and government forces seek to control roads to foreign sources of supply. Both sides want to bring in food and weapons for their followers. The government still controls many border crossings but each week more fall under attack, or control, of the rebels and it becomes more difficult for the government to supply its supporters. Shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and medical supplies are growing on both sides.
Iraqi Kurds have trained 3,000 Syrian Kurdish army deserters and armed them to serve in Kurdish militias inside Syria. While many Syrian Kurds want to fight with the rebels, others are put off by the Turkish support for the rebels and by the fanaticism of the Islamic terror groups working for the rebels. The big problem is the ethnic differences. The Kurds are Indo-European while most Syrians are Arabs (Semites). The Turks are Central Asian but the Turkish leadership is a unique mixture of genes and cultures that have long percolated in Anatolia. The Kurds don’t feel part of it and they aren’t.
November 8, 2012: For the third time this week, Syrian bullets and shells landed in Israeli territory on the Golan Heights. There were no injuries.
November 7, 2012: In Damascus rebels are using mortars to shell government residential and commercial neighborhoods. This includes shells landing close to the presidential palace compound.
November 6, 2012: Seven more Syrian Army generals, and their families, reached the Turkish border and received sanctuary. The Assad government doesn’t trust non-Alawite officers and even some of the Alawite officers and troops are deserting. In Damascus three bombs went off in pro-government areas and gunmen killed the brother of the speaker of parliament (a key Assad supporter). A car bomb has gone off in a pro-rebel neighborhood of Damascus, apparently payback for the growing number of attacks against Assad supporters in the capital.
November 5, 2012: Near the city of Hama a rebel suicide car bomber killed over fifty soldiers at a check point.
November 4, 2012: More bombs went off in downtown Damascus, demonstrating the inability of the government to defend the national capital and an area full of its supporters. In the east the rebels seized an oil field and shot down a warplane. Despite Iraqi efforts to remain neutral, the Sunni Arab majority in western Iraq is providing a lot of support for the largely Sunni Arab population of eastern Syria.