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Despite turmoil, Syria regime feels new confidence

Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013 - 00:12

Damascus: The signs would seem bad for President Bashar Assad. Blasts echo all day long over the Syrian capital as troops battle rebels entrenched on its eastern doorstep. The government admits the economy is devastated. Allegations of a horrific chemical attack have given new life to calls for international action against his regime.

Yet the regime appears more confident than ever that it weathered the worst and has gained the upper hand in the country`s civil war, even if it takes years for victory.

Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil traces a slow arc in the air with his hand to show how the country has reached a turning point in "the events", the most common euphemism here for 2 1/2 years of bloodshed.

"If the previous trajectory was all negative, it is now on a new course of a gradual reduction of violence, until it goes back to zero," he told The Associated Press.

"The turning point changes the course of things, but it will take a while," he said. "I don`t think the path downward will take as long as the path of escalation did."

There are multiple reasons for the new sense of assurance.

The military scored a string of victories on the ground the past few months that blunted a rebel surge early in the year. Army offensives stalled or pushed back rebels in Damascus` suburbs. A rebel drive into a regime heartland in the western province on the Mediterranean coast was swiftly reversed over the past week. The bleeding of defections from the military to the rebellion appears to have slowed.

The regime also believes it has shored up its most serious vulnerability, the economy. Prices for food and clothes have quadrupled in some cases, the Syrian pound has plunged in comparison with the dollar, and the war has crippled production and trade.

But this summer, Syria`s allies Russia and Iran effectively handed the government a lifeline, with credit lines to buy rice, flour, sugar, petroleum products and other staples. With that, the regime hopes it can keep an exhausted population clothed, fed, warm in the winter, and firmly on its side, enough to endure a long fight.

When asked whether Syria would have to pay back the credit lines in the future, Jamil smiled, saying, "It`s between friends."

Also, the increasing presence of foreign jihadi fighters, many linked to al Qaida, has played in the regime`s favour. The Islamic militants` strength has made the United States and its allies wary of sending badly needed weapons to the rebels and of taking direct military action against Assad, for fear of what could come next if he falls.


First Published: Saturday, August 24, 2013 - 22:58

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