After their yearlong control of territory south of the capital city, the Syrian government forces have recently ousted rebels from a string of suburbs outside Damascus. In the face of these recent successes, Syria’s prime minister, Wael al-Halqi, declared that the government was heading for an “astounding victory.” However, both sides in this two-and-a-half-year-old civil war have made declarations of victory many times.
President Bashar al-Assad is currently preparing for peace talks that the United States and Russia intend to hold by year’s end. A chemical weapons deal has solidified his global position, while the rise of extremist Islamists among the rebels has kept the West at bay and demoralized supporters. The momentum has tipped, at least for now, in Mr. Assad favor as his forces has made gains across the badly fractured nation. He has now retaken crucial suburbs that rebels relied on to keep pressure on the capital and has kept rebels from advancing into a partially encircled Damascus.
Escalating tactics have yielded little other than increasing civilian suffering. The government has been accused of using siege and starvation as war tactics, as well as using chemical and incendiary weapons. In response, the rebels shelled civilian areas to chip away at the comfort zone inside central Damascus.
The government has come close to encircling rebels in the Yarmouk Camp, a district once home to both Syrians and Palestinian refugees. This area has been a battle zone for more than a year and is still fiercely contested by both sides. The government forces have also cut the rebels supply lines and surrounded their strongholds in the area.
The rebels are also on the defensive around the northern city of Aleppo. The rebels in Aleppo have demanded that all fighters mobilize against a government offensive or face consequences in Islamic courts. In the past year, the battle lines have shifted only marginally, so whether the government can make lasting gains remains to be seen.