By the Blouin News World staff

Damascus rattled under war’s impact

by in Middle East.

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks in the Haresta neighbourhood of Damascus on February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

The Syrian civil war has raged for just under two years, with much of the battle taking place on the outskirts of capital. Reports of rebels clashing with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad generally came from increasingly devastated suburbs south and east of Damascus.

Residents inside the city could hear the gun battles and warplanes alarmingly close, but continued their daily routines. A series of fortifications around the city seemed to keep rebels at bay, and soldiers patrolling the near suburbs often swept down to make mass arrests.

But that has changed. While Assad sits in a fortified perch to the west, the fight has crept inside the city limits, with rebels having made startling inroads, bringing their their fight within a mile of the heart of Damascus on Friday, in the heaviest rebel offensive in the city since July. Government forces have doubled down, cordoning off the most embattled neighborhoods, sending more tanks onto the streets, and stepping up its shelling campaigns. But the rebels have not let up, battling soldiers for control of major highways and railways, laying the groundwork to isolate Damascus in preparation for a full-out assault.

Diplomatic hopes have all but evaporated, and with them — and the rebels’ push into the heart of the government’s power — there is a growing sense of finality on the demise the Assad regime. While fighting was confined to the outskirts, government loyalists could paint the conflict as one between a handful of disaffected rebels fueled by “enemies of Syria” fighting against the lawful regime. Now with the battles raging again in the streets of Damascus, residents have a sense of the militants’ tenacity, organization, and disinclination to break off the battle. There seems to be a sense of dread and a feeling that if government forces can’t protect its most heavily guarded city, what can the government behind them do other than surrender?

It has long been surmised that as Damascus goes, so does the Assad regime. But with this new push by militants into the city, there is a new concern for Assad and his loyalists. Government troops are growing tired, and it also appears that there is growing disillusionment in the ranks that has quickly spread with this new fighting inside Damascus. History is rife with examples of leaders who were forced out at the point of a gun — or worse — by their military, and Assad’s frantic efforts to quell the fighting inside his capital may prove to be too little, too late.