Syria: Assad says “active phase” of war to be over this year

A reported “surge of violence” across the Syrian nation has killed more than two dozen people on Sunday. An explosion went off in Homs and shells targeted certain areas in outer Damascus, the New York Times reports.

However, the New York Times also reports a “deceptive”  and “relative” calm over the capital of Damascus:

The change of atmosphere here in the Syrian capital is unmistakable. The boom of shelling no longer dominates the days and nights. Tensions over security are draining from the city like air from a balloon. Checkpoints remain ubiquitous but sentries are relaxed, even jocular, teasing strangers, “Any bombs?”

As government forces seize the last insurgent strongholds along the Lebanese border, securing the strategic corridor from Damascus to the coast, President Bashar al-Assad’s home region, the message from the government is clear: It is winning, and it can afford to be magnanimous. It is offering what it calls reconciliation to repentant opponents, and some are accepting.

But the relative tranquillity may be deceptive. Beneath a calm imposed by military force, siege and starvation, the stage appears set for an unstable period of prolonged conflict that could explode again months or years on. Resentment and distrust smolder on all sides. The country remains divided between government areas and the insurgent-held north. In the capital, the ferment seems clamped down, rather than soothed.

Though the government is reasserting control in the crucial center of the country and striking cease-fires in long-blockaded Damascus suburbs, it has resolved none of the deep political grievances that continue to tear at the national fabric. Its opponents, armed and unarmed, are pulling back and accepting defeat in some areas — for now. Yet many say they have not given up, but are merely reassessing their plans and goals with an eye to the future.

The piece by the Times ends on a note stating “officials insist Syrians will soon return living quietly together, and many on all sides fervently hope so.” Although, with this hope, there are still “complaints about repression, corruption and inequality that set off protests in 2011 remain unaddressed.”

On the ground

President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told a Russian ex-prime minister that the “active phase” of the war in Syria would be over this year. Sergei Stepashin shared Assad said the following, “This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time – fighting terrorists.”

The Homs blast that went off on Sunday killed at least 30 people. Mortar bombs also killed another 13 in the capital the same day. Barrel bombs were reported to have landed in Aleppo, Deraa and Latakia. Mortar bombs by the rebels hit Latakia as well.

Syria’s government forces also used barrel bombs in the area around newly rebel-controlled Kessab near the Turkish border.

The Turkish military stated that Syria’s missile systems were on guard as Turkish fighter jets flew near the shared border.

There was a deadly clash in Jordan’s Zaatari Syrian refugee camp over the weekend where one refugee was killed. Some are addressing it as a riot where a few dozen were hurt. BBC News reports, “Jordanian forces used tear gas against stone-throwing refugees who had set fire to tents and vehicles.” The United Nations is alarmed by the latest out of Zaatari.

Through talks

Jordan’s king Abdullah is set to hold a Syria conflict meeting with President Putin in Russia’s Moscow on Wednesday.

Leader of Lebanese group Hezbollah says it has helped President Bashar al-Assad win the conflict in Syria. “In my opinion, the phase of bringing down the regime or bringing down the state is over,” Hassan Nasrallah said. “I think we have passed the danger of division. They cannot overthrow the regime, but they can wage a war of attrition.” Hezbollah has fought against the armed opposition alongside the government forces for most of the war. [More quotes from Nasrallah’s statement, via AFP]

Headlines

A well known Dutch priest was shot dead by a gunman in long-time besieged city of Homs over the weekend. The priest has been in Syria since the 1960’s and refused to leave in UN evacuations.

Formerly al-Qaida backed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) captures a new front in its push into Baghdad. It has reportedly started clashes in Zoba and Zaidan. ISIS is benefiting from anti-government forces still occupying Iraq’s Fallujah.

Al-Qaida’s leader Zawahiri has called for militants to find out who killed their chief Syria representative in Aleppo.

Syria’s opposition radio makes waves from via Turkey to serve Syrians the latest news.

Also: Seymour Hersh has published another controversial piece on Syria, relating Obama and Erdogan with the rebels.

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