Residential neighborhoods in the suburbs of Damascus are now the scene of violent clashes between government forces and rebels move closer to the Syria capital. The army has also expanded its military to campaign to the city of Deir al-Zor, where rebel forces were forced to withdraw to avoid heavy civilian casualties. Tanks and artillery are also being used in Hama, where this ancient castle has come under bombardment.
Bashar al-Assad's forces have also returned to the already battered city of Homs, bombarding districts that had previously escaped the worst of the fighting after weeks of heavy fighting. The new targets are areas where many of people escaped to after leaving Baba Amr, the neighborhood that was a rebel stronghold before being almost entirely destroyed by heavy shelling.
The one tiny sliver of a bright spot is that Russia — which to this point has been Bashar al-Assad's biggest booster — is showing sign that its support may be slipping. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that Assad "is making very many mistakes" and has "reacted wrongly" to protests. While they continue to oppose calls for Assad's removal or resignation, they have expressed some support for Kofi Annan's proposal to put to the stop the fighting.
At this point, it's getting harder to see how this conflict ends, particularly in regard to Bashar al-Assad's continued rule. Though they have made little progress militarily, the rebel fighters show no signs that they will give up (and the government's history of violent reprisals gives them no reason to think they should.) If a peace settlement, were somehow reached now, it's hard to imagine how Assad could rule over such a divided and fractured country. As The New York Times put it, he "cannot afford to stop shooting and can never go back to ruling as he did before."
The only other alternative is a complete and utter destruction of the rebellion, which means a near total destruction of his own country and the deaths of thousands of more citizens, leaving Assad as the king of a ruined land. None of those outcomes seem attractive, yet Assad continue his campaign to hang on, no matter the cost. Without pressure from Russia (or possibly Iran) to arrange a peaceful exit, the bloodshed will only continue.