A bleak series of reports on retreating rebel forces in Syria depict a movement that's out-gunned, out-maneuvered and out of basic food and medical supplies. On Thursday, Syrian forces reclaimed a long-held rebel enclave in the city of Homs and are now moving north to double down on the tactical gains. While aid from the Red Cross is reportedly nearing the battle-scarred area, rebel forces are on the run and still too fragmented to establish a coherent armed response to forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Giving a window into the government's gains, Patrick McDonnell at the Los Angeles Times reports that the insurgents occupying the Homs' Baba Amr neighborhood announced a "strategic withdrawal" from the area "for the sake of civilians remaining inside." The capture of Amr marks a huge victory for the government, as Baba Amr has long been considered an international symbol of Syrian opposition to the government. "Several hundred armed rebels were believed to have occupied Baba Amr," reports McDonnell. Syrian forces are now slated to move north to Idilb Province where a slew of cities are resisting government rule.
Speaking to the conditions facing the rebels, The New York Times' Neil MacFarquhar and Alan Cowell report that it's a "race against exhaustion, defections and diminished resources." Part of the reason the rebels explained the retreat was because they were "both heavily outgunned and unable to justify keeping thousands of civilians marooned under dire conditions." The neighborhood has been ravaged by "shell blasts, residents lack food, medicine, water and electricity." While Assaad has given permission to the Red Cross to enter Baba Amr, rebels fear reprisals are likely as gun fire continues in the city.
One might think the steady slaughter of Syrian citizens would unify the rebels against Assad, however Time's Rania Abouzeid reports that rebels still can't agree on a coherent armed response. "The head of the Syrian National Council, the predominant political opposition group, has long insisted that his country is not at war, Abouzeid reports. "Indeed, for months, Burhan Ghalioun has resisted calls for a militarized response to the repression of the Assad regime, resulting in a lack of coordination between the SNC and the armed guerrillas who are loosely affiliated under the FSA banner. But on Thursday, Ghalioun and the SNC seemed to have reconciled themselves to the 'newfound reality' in Syria and announced the formation of a military advisory bureau — even though Ghalioun continues to deny that his country is in the middle of a civil war."
That decision hasn't triggered a larger move to unite the rebel factions. Ghalioun still hasn't even been able to confirm where the rebels' military bureau will be located, though they would like it to be in Turkey. Unfortunately, for the rebels, the disunity they're experiencing isn't shared among the ruling, pro-Assad elite. As James Clapper, director of American intelligence told the Senate Armed Forces Committee, there is a "cohesion of the elites" in Syria. “Short of a coup or something like that, Assad will hang in there and continue to do as he’s done,” Clapper said. “Assad himself, probably because of his psychological need to emulate his father, sees no other option but to continue to try to crush the opposition.”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.