Russia is trying to persuade the Assad government to attend a peace conference but Basher Assad insists that the rebels are not sufficiently united to negotiate anything. Russia is also having trouble getting Iran to show up. That’s because the Iranians, and their Islamic radical leaders, believe they will prevail. The more practical Iranian military leadership has a strategy they believe will work. By using thousands of Hezbollah fighters, hundreds of Iranian security specialists, and billions of dollars in Iranian cash against the disunited rebels it is believed that at least stalemate can be achieved, allowing for a partition of Syria. Best case is the Iranian help can defeat the rebels and restore the Assad dictatorship but this is considered a long shot. Russia wants to avoid that because it would be bloody and the bad press of being associated with the Assads and Iran will not help Russian diplomacy or arms sales in the Arab world.
The Assads need all the victories they can get because in most of the country the army and pro-Assad militias are hard pressed and often besieged by rebel forces. The Assads have abandoned most of the country (especially the east and north). The big effort is now holding the southwest (Damascus) and northwest (the largely Alawite coastal region).
Russia is taking a lot of heat for continuing to deliver weapons that Syria ordered before the rebellion began two years ago. These include anti-ship missiles (that Israel fears would end up in Lebanon where Hezbollah would use them against Israeli ships or off-shore natural gas wells) and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems (similar to the U.S. Patriot). The S-300s are also a threat to Israel, which said it will continue its air raids in Syria (to stop new weapons from getting to Lebanon and Hezbollah). If the S-300 did show up in Syria (or Lebanon) Israel would probably attack it right away, before these systems could become operational. Russia began deliveries of their
Yakhont anti-ship missiles two years ago, but only a few dozen have arrived so far. Costing several million dollars each, the missiles have a range of 300 kilometers and are very hard to stop. Iran is paying for them, as well as the S-300 systems.
The Israeli air raids are condemned by both the Assads and the rebels, although many rebels realize that Israeli air support would be useful. But decades of anti-Israel propaganda in the Arab world have made it generally politically incorrect to say anything nice about the Israelis.
In eastern Iraq the local branch of al Qaeda and local tribes are splitting the profits from operating captured oil fields and smuggling the oil into Turkey. Al Qaeda supplies the muscle to protect the oil fields and smugglers.
Iranian advisors have been crucial, because they are experienced in irregular warfare and show Syrian Army commanders how to best deal with the rebels (by using deception and psychological warfare to damage rebel morale and confuse rebel leaders). This is making a difference. This new offensive capability of the army is being used to keep the roads from Damascus to the Syrian coast and Lebanon open and to keep the rebels from shutting down the major airports in the cities (especially Damascus). There are only about twenty flights a day out of the country (and twice as many internal ones) and they are fully booked, mainly by people seeking to escape. The national airline has six Airbus 320s and two ATR 72s that can only fly to the Gulf, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, and Russia. These flights can handle about 3,000 passengers a day. Some people are still flying in, but mostly the traffic is outgoing. Sanctions ban Syrian flights to Europe. The Aleppo airport has been closed, by rebel fire, most of the time over the last few months. Using the roads is still possible but with a high risk of getting attacked.
The number of Lebanese refugees outside the country is over 1.5 million. This is increasing at over half a million a month, and that is expected to accelerate by the end of the year if the fighting continues at its current intensity level. Including refugees inside Syria, about a third of the 22 million population is in dire need of food, shelter, and other aid. The government is making it difficult for foreign aid groups to get supplies to these pro-rebel refugees. That forces the men among the refugees to stick around and deal with the food and other shortages rather than going off to fight for the rebels. The death toll is now over 90,000, with several hundred thousand wounded. That means about two percent of all Syrians have been killed or injured by the fighting so far. There is less and less medical care available inside the country.
May 19, 2013: Reinforced by hundreds of Hezbollah gunmen Syrian troops retook the town of Qusair (10 kilometers from the Lebanese border).
May 18, 2013: A car bomb went off in a pro-Assad neighborhood of Damascus, killing eight and wounding many more. The bomb was apparently attached to the bottom of a military vehicle. Outside the city there were explosions and gunfire.
May 16, 2013: The U.S. believes a small number of chemical shells or bombs were used twice in Syria and are still seeking more information. As far as the Americans are concerned this does not trigger their threat to intervene if chemical weapons were used.
May 15, 2013: Rebels attacked the main prison in Aleppo to free hundreds of rebels held there. The rebels managed to isolate the prison, but the defenders were too strong and began executing prisoners and tossing the bodies outside to discourage further attacks.
May 14, 2013: Internet access to Syria was cut again, this time for eight hours.