x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Aleppo offensive is a dead end for Assad loyalists

It is a desperate regime that uses its air force to pound its own strongholds with scant regard for the civilian population.

Militarily and diplomatically, the Assad regime is nearing its end. Last week, there was a belief that the Syrian government was on its final legs after an explosion at a government building killed three of the command's top officers. But if the unrest of the past 17 months has proven anything, it is that the regime's loyalists strike hard when threatened, even if it means taking the fight to civilians.

The last few days have seen an escalation of fighting in Syria's largest city and commercial hub of Aleppo, with rebel fighters claiming control over major districts. Pro-Assad forces responded by strafing parts of the city with fighter jets and helicopter gunships. It is a desperate regime that uses its air force to pound its own strongholds with scant regard for the civilian population. On the ground, the clashes in Syria's second city are getting bloodier, too.

The ranks of the rebels forces, meanwhile, are swelling by the day as people from the countryside join the fight against government troops. And while rebel commanders are increasingly concerned about a shortage of ammunition, they would have been encouraged by news coming from outside the country. Mr Assad's scorched-earth policy is clearly galvanising support for the opposition.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Syrian ambassador to the UAE, Abdelatif Al Dabbagh, defected from the ruling regime a day after his wife, Lamia Al Hariri, the ambassador to Cyprus, announced her own defection. Ambassadors in other countries are set to follow suit in the coming days and weeks, according to the Syrian National Council. And by going after civilians inside the merchant base of Aleppo, Syria's embattled president is certain to alienate many more before he falls.

The Assads find themselves in a corner: kill or be killed. The possibility of a negotiated settlement between the government and the disorganised opposition is almost nonexistent. How long before the fall is uncertain, but it is clear the regime's core is willing to reap any amount of destruction in its desperate attempt to hang on. That makes the spectre of chemical weapons all the more worrying.

Syria is positioned for a long, bloody civil conflict with tribal groups and other factions filling the country's security vacuum. The longer the Assads refuse to leave, the bloodier the aftermath will be. By bombing Aleppo and other areas that once supported the Assads, the regime is digging its own grave. But better its grave than many for more innocent civilians.