Riyad Hijab, the former Prime Minister of Syria, gave a news conference in Amman, Jordan, and portrayed the al Assad regime as demoralized and losing its grip on the country. “The regime is collapsing, spiritually and financially, as it escalates militarily. It no longer controls more than 30% of Syrian territory,” Hijab told the press.
Hijab did not explain his estimate of the territorial hold of the al Assad regime, but its not hard to figure it out. To mass troops in Aleppo and Damascus, the Syrian army had to remove them from the countryside. We are receiving live reports from Western journalists in towns just a dozen miles outside those cities, which means the army is not in control of those areas. There have been virtually no reports of clashes between the rebels and the army in the provinces since the battle moved to Aleppo and Damascus. One exception has been Deir al-Zor, east of Damascus, which is the capital of the country’s oil region. Rebels are in control of the city and the army is shelling the town from fortified positions. Rebels have claimed to have shot down a Syrian jet fighter near Deir al-Zor, though the cellphone-level video of the event is unclear. It was known that the rebels have received a supply of weapons capable of shooting down aircraft. The official report is that the jet suffered mechanical difficulties but the pilot was captured by the rebels, who at last report were promising to treat him in accordance to the Geneva Conventions.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a Saudi-backed, 57-member group, is expected to suspend Syria at their up-coming summit in Mecca. Iran opposes the suspension. Iran and Saudi Arabia, representing the Shia and Sunni populations of the region, have long been in conflict with each other, both seeking power as the pre-eminent voice of Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia has the upper hand because it is home of the birthplace of Islam and there are far more Sunni than Shia in the world. The rivalry has hampered any attempts at diplomatic resolution for Syria.
There are 150,000 U. N. registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. An additional 1.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced. The estimated death toll is 18,000. Relief has not been available for the displaced inside Syria because of the fighting and the Syrian government is denying visas to relief workers.
There are food shortages in Aleppo. Doctors are setting up makeshift hospitals to treat patients with minimal supplies, and reporting that people are showing up hoping the “hospital” has food.
The rebels are outnumbered and outgunned, but still managing to keep the revolution going. The question now is what kind of country will remain after the civil war is over.
It is Iraq that shows how bad things are in Syria. There are deep shortages of manufactured goods in the shops in Iraq because imports from Syria have practically ground to a halt. What few goods are making through have had their prices raised because of the difficulties getting shipments out of the country.
European goods used to reach Iraq through Syria’s Mediterranean ports of Latakia and Tartus, but the sanctions have impacted shipments into the ports even if the goods are not intended for Syria. European suppliers are looking for alterative routes. The overland crossings have been impacted by the fighting and the border crossings have come under attack. Iraqi merchants, with ten years of war experience behind them, started stocking up on goods as much as six months ago. The most immediate effect has been on fresh food shipments from Syrian agricultural wholesalers. Fruit and vegetable prices have already risen 30%, but were not initially noticed because prices usually rise during Ramadan. (Okay, that one bothers me – price gouging during the Holy Month? That would be like Italian shops hiking the price of fish during Lent. That is so not right.)
While Iran and Saudi Arabia spar with each other at the two-day OIC summit, it would be in the best interests of the region for the other members to map out ways to help the neighboring countries that have been overrun with refugees, work out alternative sources of goods for those countries who were dependent on Syria for imports and explore ways to prevent foreign fighters from crossing their territories, either Islamists in “support” of the rebels or trainers and supplies from Iran.