On 20 January, Syrian state television reported that the country’s army had cleared the Al-Midan area of the capital of armed groups. The forces regained control of most parts of the neighbourhood following heavy clashes with armed gangs. Government forces confiscated ammunition and vehicles equipped with machine guns from the armed opposition.
While some Western agencies, like Reuters, were echoing the Free Syrian Army’s propaganda about an “inexorable” rebel advance inside Damascus, what seemed especially inexorable on Friday 20 July was the destruction of groups who infiltrated into the capital. Syrian TV released a video showing the bodies of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters in the area of Qaboun, ensuring that many of them were “terrorists from other Arab countries”.
A report from Syrian television, which showed soldiers in the sub-district of al-Zahra in Al-Midane, said that the army had declared this area safe and asked residents to return home. In this sense, the quick and easy victory of Syrian forces in Damascus obviously has served to reassure the population and Assad’s foreign allies. Apparently, the thousands of rebels who entered the city were unable to seize it, but they were able to create insecurity and make the news.
The soldiers showed their optimism after Al-Midans’s takeover. One of them said that the assassination of the Defense Minister and other officials on Wednesday had given them more courage and that he and his comrades would destroy all those who had damaged their country. Another said: “This land is forbidden to any foreign hand who wants to bring us evil. This hand will be cut without mercy!”. Another soldier exclaimed: “Here it is Syria. Down with Qatar!”.
And another: “We are here to defend our land, our people and our blood. We will sacrifice ourselves for Syria! Here in this land of Al-Midane. Only the Syrian Arab army has the right to be there. This land is ours and it is us who control the ground!”.
During the night of Thursday and early Friday there were no big explosions like the previous days. Those explosions had alarmed residents, some of whom started to move to safer neighborhoods and others who chose to leave the country, according to reports.
The correspondent from Russian news site in English Russia Today, Maria Finoshina, wrote that Thursday’s clashes were the “worst she had seen in weeks”. Columns of black smoke rose on the horizon and sounds of gunfire could be heard regularly.
Maria Finoshina added that despite all this and a general climate of tension, life had gone on as if nothing was happening in many neighborhoods which were not directly affected by the fighting, especially in the daytime. “People still frequent cafes and many shops remain open,” she said.
Fight in other parts of Syria
At the same time, Syrian security forces recaptured a number of key areas across the country from armed rebels. Even newspapers such as the French conservative Le Figaro came to recognize that the government and its army had achieved successes against the rebels: “His troops (those of Bashar) crushed the rebels in Douma, near Damascus, bombed for the first time on Thursday, in a district of the capital, Kfar Sousseh, and launched the same day a deadly offensive against Al-Treimseh, killing over a hundred insurgents.”
The armed forces also regained the control of the Silqin area in Idlib and recaptured the al-Bukamal area near the Iraqi border as well as Bab al-Hawa, a town close to the Turkish border.
The terrorist attack
On the previous day, the news was dominated by the terrorist attack that killed the Minister of Defense, General Daoud Rajha, the brother in law of Bashar al-Assad, Assef Shawkat. The attack also seriously injured the Minister of Interior, Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar and other government officials. According to the Syrian Minister of Information, Omrane Zoebi, “the terrorist attack was perpetrated by the intelligence services of countries enemies of Syria”. “All countries that send money and weapons to terrorist groups take responsibility for what happened in Damascus,” said the minister in an interview with Syrian television, added that the attack was “the last chapter of the American-Israeli conspiracy against Syria.”
The attack was rapidly broadcast by anti-Syrian media (Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya etc) to increase their disinformation campaign. They said that General Hassan Makhlouf, the head of State Security was among the killed, which was denied. They claimed the Vice-President Farouk al-Shara has defected (he did an interview for ANB to deny it in person). There was also news on Al Jazeera about some alleged explosions in the site of the Fourth Division of the Syrian army, commanded by the brother of Syrian President, General Maher Al-Assad, which also proved to be completely wrong.
Their message was clear: Assad did not control the situation on the ground and the regime would fall in some days or even in hours. The US administration echoed these claims, saying that “it is clear that President Assad is losing control in Syria.”
Israeli media also expressed their delight. The correspondent of the Arabic TV channel Al-Mayadine and editor of the Palestinian agency Maan in the occupied West Bank, Nasser Lahham, reported that Israeli television had announced the information of the murderous attack against the Syrian military officers with rejoicing, and it speculated about the imminent fall of the Syrian president.
Israeli President Shimon Peres could not hide his joy. “After the end of the Assad regime, we want to maintain good relations with Syria,” he said. A limited cabinet was even convened in an emergency meeting.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council (CNS), the opposition coalition supported by the West and the Gulf monarchies (and implicitly by the Zionist entity), asserted that the following days would be “decisive” and called the Syrians “to prepare themselves for the fall of Bashar al-Assad.”
The government reacts
However, Syrian authorities reacted immediately after the attack. President Assad appointed General Fahd al-Freij, hitherto Chief of Staff, as new Minister of Defense. He inaugurated its functions by an unequivocal statement on the government´s desire to end terrorism, bombs and bands.
The Syrian army expressed its determination to “cleanse” the country of “terrorists” after the attack.
“This terrorist act strengthens the resolve of our armed forces to clean the home of the remnants of terrorist gangs,” it said in a statement broadcast by state television. After this statement, an active pursuit operation against the insurgent groups in Damascus took place.
(Several) security experts have also told several Arabic channels that that the attack was not likely to undermine the Syrian regime.
One of them is Pierre Khalaf, who heads the Beirut-based Centre for Strategic Arab and International Studies. Khalaf is certainly on the far side of the Syrian government –but it is in any case opposed to misinformation -. He considers that the FSA has currently about 7,000 armed combatants and it is not a serious rival to the Syrian army.
“The Syrian leadership’s plan is to destroy most of the insurgents’ strongholds, whose number is estimated at 7,000 armed men. They also plan to control international frontiers. Having regained control of the countryside of Damascus, where the FSA had vast stores of weapons, operating rooms and underground hospitals, the effort is currently heading towards Homs, in order to pacify and regain control of neighborhoods which are still under the control of insurgents. At the same time, large operations are conducted at a border with Turkey through which weapons, money and men are being introduced into Syria. “The situation of the rebels has reached a state of weakness and dispersal”, says Khalaf, but opponents living in five-star hotels (in Paris and other cities) are multiplying their statements on the “imminence” of the Battle of Damascus, which will be “decisive”.
Peter Khalaf has asked: “Are these claims realistic? It seems indisputable that the FSA and assimilated groups are on the defensive everywhere and that every serious confrontation with the Syrian military turns for them into a bloody defeat. And we can assume that the army, assured the Russian and Chinese support, will not to stop its deadly pressure.”