Intense fighting raged in multiple suburbs of the Syrian capital again this week, with government forces making progress in recent days. The Assad regime allowed limited access for civilians to leave embattled areas, allowing aid groups to enter some disputed areas for the first time in months.
BBC News reported Tuesday that government forces lifted a seven-month blockade from the city of Moadamiya, southwest of Damascus. The Syrian army had previously said areas under rebel control could surrender or starve. Hoping to move rebel groups away from a nearby military base, government forces bombarded Moadamiya and launched a chemical attack against the town in August. Since then, the Asad regime has refused almost all access by humanitarian organizations. The situation became so bad, according to news reports that people ate grass and leaves, and a religious edict permitted people to eat cats and dogs – normally forbidden in Islam. There were reports of several deaths from malnutrition. Aid agencies and the UN voiced concern over disputed areas for months, but government officials continued to limit aid distribution in areas with rebel fighters.
A Syrian citizen from Moadamiya, too sick to walk, and had to be assisted by Red Crescent workers. (Photo: BBC News)
This week Syrian army also extended its control over Hatetat al-Turkman, a suburb southeast of Damascus. In response, rebels shelled government held positions in the Jaramana district near the capital’s main airport. Strategically significant to both sides, the main road connecting the airport with central Damascus provides an important supply route for the Assad-regime to the outside world. Rebels also bombed a gas pipeline Wednesday, cutting off power to much of the capital and surrounding countryside.
Over the past few months, Assad’s forces have regained momentum, drawing in more foreign fighters and building upon other recent victories. A Voice of America (VOA) report states fighters from Hezbollah and Shia Iraqi militiamen played a significant role during this weeks fighting in the southeast Damascus. Several members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda affiliate, died in the fighting according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, there are reports of large-scale al-Qaeda infiltration into Syria on the rebel side as well as reports of weak military cohesion, infighting, and ideological differences among rebel forces.