Taking Homs is a hollow victory for Al Assad

Despite Al Assad's claims of victory in Homs, a centre of the uprising against his regime, the reality shows that the tide is turning the way of moderate rebel groups.

When Syrian rebels left Homs, the so-called capital of the revolution, this week after a year-long siege, it handed a significant public relations coup to pro-Assad forces. Closer examination of the facts, however, challenges the regime’s narrative that the long conflict is turning its way.

There is no doubt that regaining control of Homs is a victory for Bashar Al Assad because controlling Syria’s third-largest city solidifies the regime’s hold on a broad swathe of territory in the centre of the country. But this was hardly a military victory in the straightforward sense.

This was a ceasefire deal forced upon the rebels because the regime effectively starved them into submission rather than by conventional military means. When the roughly 1,200 rebels and civilians began leaving the city, the fighters were able to take their rifles with them, as well as some rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

The guerrilla nature of the uprising also means that although regime forces will now control all of Homs, most of them are likely to be reassigned to other places where fighting flares up, allowing the rebels to retake Homs at a later stage. This makes the withdrawal from Homs much more of a tactical retreat by the rebels than a victory by Al Assad.

As our columnist Hassan Hassan observed in The National this week, the facts on the ground are increasingly at odds with the regime’s optimistic narrative. The influx of sophisticated weaponry – particularly the powerful TOW wire-guided anti-tank missiles – that are being acquired by the Free Syrian Army aligned forces, are giving them a considerable edge in street battles.

The opposition leader, Ahmad Jarba, has been in Washington this week, seeking further assistance. His view is that the prospect of building an alternative future for Syria rests upon the supply of anti-aircraft weapons, such as MANPADS (man-portable air-defence systems), to anti-regime forces.

If those weapons are placed in the hands of moderate groups, it would not only shift the momentum of the conflict, but it would also help the FSA recruit fighters who previously might have been lured to the jihadist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Jabhat Al Nusra as a result of their successes.

Published: May 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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