Friday, May 09, 2014

Syrian Rebels Leave Homs

It has been reported widely in the past day that Syrian rebels have evacuated their last positions in Homs, in the Old City.  This is not just a tactical event:  It is also a deeply symbolic event, and represents a potential turning point in the Syrian Civil War.

Location of Homs in Syria and map of city
Coming just a few weeks in advance of the 2014 Syrian presidential election, the evacuation of Homs is a blow to the revolution.  Homs was one of the first cities where major protests against President Bashar al-Assad started, and hundreds of rebels have died defending the city.  The Old City in particular was a staunch rebel bastion throughout the first years of the war.  In recent months, however, government forces had held an effective siege against rebel positions, preventing major resupply.  At times, rebel fighters were reduced to eating grass or other non-food materials to survive.

Destroyed buildings in Homs
In return for being allowed to leave Homs freely and with their weapons, the rebels have agreed to allow the relief of two pro-government towns that have been under siege for over a year, and to release government prisoners who they had been holding.

Rebel fighters have mourned the loss of Homs, eulogizing it as the capitol of the revolution, while government spokesmen claim that it will allow peace and rebuilding in a war torn area.

The Rebels' loss of Homs adds to growing momentum by government forces ahead of the upcoming elections.  While March legislative reforms technically allow for multi-candidate elections, and Bashar al-Assad will face 2 challengers, international observers are highly critical of the electoral process and do not expect it to be fair or democratic.  No opposition figures were allowed to participate in the election, and there is no indication that opposition demands will be met as a result of the electoral process.

My forecast:  This was a victory for the government, but a small one.  The war will continue to drag on.  Iran and Saudi Arabia aren't done with their proxy slugfest yet.

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