This year has seen two fundamental developments in the nature of the battle for Syria; the first is the definitive swing in momentum to the Syrian government. With the aid of Iranian and Hezbollah forces, Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad has managed to renew his once failing grip on power. The second is the pronounced shift in the methods used by opposition forces; having failed to gain tactical advantages over pro-government forces, the Syrian rebels – as if almost conceding defeat on the conventional battleground – have reverted, more and more, to terrorist-type methods, such as roadside bombings, suicide attacks and assassinations. This shift by the rebels to terror tactics signals the possibility of a more protracted struggle that may last years.
In February, a car bomb exploded in Damascus, killing more than 50 people and wounding at least 200 others. in one of the deadliest attacks carried out in the capital.
On March 21, a suicide attack on a mosque in the Syrian capital of Damascus killed a Sunni preacher, along with more than 40 others. Over 80 were wounded in the blast. Although Assad – who belongs to the Alawite minority sect of the Shia tradition – is facing a Sunni uprising, 84-year-old Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti was a prominent supporter of the regime.
A car packed with explosives was detonated by a suicide bomber at a busy traffic circle in Damascus on April 8. The official Syrian news agency, SANA, reported at least 15 dead and more than 146 wounded. Chinese news agency Xinhua reported a suicide attack in the old quarter of Damascus, on June 27. The attack on a military checkpoint killed at least four people.
In addition to battling government forces, the Syrian opposition has been hampered by internal fighting between rival Islamist groups. In mid-January, a top rebel commander from the Islamist al-Farouq Brigades was shot dead in the northern part of the country, near the Turkish border. Thaer al-Waqqas was killed in rebel-held territory by members of the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group linked to al-Qaeda. It was claimed that al-Waqqas was linked to the earlier killing of an al-Nusra Front leader.
The most recent assassination came early Wednesday when a pro-government journalist working for the State media was shot dead by suspected rebel gunmen. Mohammad Darra Jamo, a Syrian Kurd, had appeared frequently on Hezbollah-run radio and TV. He was shot outside his home in Sarafand, on the Lebanese coast. The killing is further indication that the war in Syria continues to show signs of spilling over into neighboring Lebanon, which has been all but drawn into the conflict by Hezbollah’s increasing intervention, in support of the Assad government. Whether or not the regime in Damascus manages to quell the uprising against it, the Syrian rebels appear to be shifting towards terror tactics, which may herald the onset of a years-long conflict in the country.
Graham J Noble