The surrender of Homs – The beginning of the end of the Syrian revolution?

Adnan Khan of Revolution Observer questions whether the surrender of Homs marked the beginning of the end of the Syrian revolution.

The cease­fire in Homs which has led to the with­drawal of rebel forces, bring­ing Syria’s largest city after Dam­as­cus and Aleppo back into regime hands was described by Iran as a vic­tory for the Assad regime. Iran’s Alaed­din Boru­jerdi, an influ­en­tial gov­ern­ment insider said: “We have won in Syria, the regime will stay. The Amer­i­cans have lost it.”

Homs had become the heart­land of Syria’s upris­ing and wit­nessed some of the fiercest fight­ing in the past three years. Its prox­im­ity to the Lebanese bor­der drew fight­ers from Hezbol­lah and rebel fight­ers from the region deter­mined to keep it from falling. The with­drawal has secured the cor­ri­dor from Dam­as­cus to Latakia, which has been crit­i­cal for the regime and now becomes another long list of losses for the rebel groups. The loss of the cen­tral city was due to four fun­da­men­tal reasons.

Factors leading to the surrender of Homs

Firstly, Homs has been effec­tively under siege for three years. The south­west Sunni Mus­lim major­ity neigh­bor­hood Baba Amr remained a thorn in the regime’s attempt to end the upris­ing. Homs has expe­ri­enced over three army offen­sives which included bom­bard­ment for months at a time. War­planes, tanks and artillery fired mis­siles as well as mor­tars were used indis­crim­i­nately to break the resolve of the oppo­si­tion. Unable to com­pletely defeat the rebel fight­ers the regime even resorted to chem­i­cal weapons. The Assad regime used Sarin gas against inno­cent civil­ians in the Bayada dis­trict, where many peo­ple died and scores more were wounded. Maj-Gen Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, the for­mer chief of the Syr­ian mil­i­tary police, who defected to the oppo­si­tion on the 26 Decem­ber 2012 con­firmed the use of chem­i­cal weapons in Homs.

Sec­ondly, whilst the Syr­ian regime has con­tin­ued in its indis­crim­i­nate slaugh­ter it also began tar­get­ing civil­ians in what one Syr­ian secu­rity offi­cial called the “Star­va­tion Until Sub­mis­sion Cam­paign,” block­ing food and med­i­cine from enter­ing and peo­ple from leav­ing besieged areas of Syria. Whilst besieg­ing towns has been a com­mon tac­tic, block­ades around crit­i­cal areas tar­get­ing res­i­dents is the most recent tac­tic employed by the regime. The strat­egy works by col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment of res­i­dents in areas where rebels have taken on the regime. In Homs this has been tak­ing place for all of the last 6 months.

The UN’s inde­pen­dent Com­mis­sion of Inquiry con­firmed in March 2014 that Syr­i­ans were being “denied human­i­tar­ian aid, food and such basic neces­si­ties as med­ical care, and must choose between sur­ren­der and star­va­tion.” The report con­firmed “Peo­ple have noth­ing to eat, hav­ing exhausted all their sup­plies and resorted to eat­ing plant leaves.” This is why rebel lead­ers speak­ing from Homs said they had lit­tle choice but to yield after at least six relent­less months of shelling that has taken them and the small num­ber of fam­i­lies who remain in the Old City to the point of starvation.

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Thirdly, as the regime failed to con­duct sus­tained attacks into North­ern rebel held areas, the regime effec­tively gave up reclaim­ing most of the north of the coun­try and focused on cut­ting rebel sup­ply lines between Dam­as­cus and Latakia. This began with the Qalam­oun offen­sive which saw the large scale entry of Hezbol­lah fight­ers and then the use of chem­i­cal weapons in the sub­urbs of Dam­as­cus. Homs which sits in the mid­dle of this cor­ri­dor was thus an essen­tial piece of real estate, which would alter the bal­ance of power in the coun­try.

For the past year the regime has given up on offen­sive oper­a­tions into north­ern ter­ri­to­ries and focused on a more defen­sive pos­ture in secur­ing areas close to the nation’s heart­land, this has now paid of for the regime as it stopped con­duct­ing offen­sive oper­a­tions which has cost it dearly.

ISIS training camp in Syria
ISIS training camp in Syria

Fourthly, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) played a cen­tral role in the sur­ren­der of Homs and the defeat of the rebels. As the upris­ing stands today more resources are being ded­i­cated to fight­ing the ISIS then the regime which severely hin­dered rebel sup­ply lines and resources to Homs.

The rebel dis­cord has fun­da­men­tally been due to the actions of the ISIS. As ISIS began launch­ing an increas­ing num­ber of attacks against any rebel­ group from late 2013, the group became a tar­get for the other rebel groups. It was this infight­ing, that led to the the regime solid­i­fy­ing its gains by cut­ting rebel sup­ply lines and mak­ing advances in Aleppo, Deir el-Zour and Latakia and even­tu­ally Homs. If this infight­ing con­tin­ues to spread across the coun­try, it would severely ham­per the rebels in their attempt to top­ple the al-Assad regime.

Whilst the Homs sur­ren­der is being pre­sented by the regime as the begin­ning of the end of the upris­ing the al-Assad regime does not con­trol all the coun­try’s strate­gic areas and has strug­gled to hold all of them at the same time. The rebel hold on Homs tied up regime forces try­ing to fight offen­sives in the north of the coun­try and rep­re­sents one of the first strate­gic vic­to­ries of  the regime for some time.

But rebel groups are still entrenched in areas around key cities and towns under­min­ing the regimes con­trol com­pletely of the coun­try. What has remained a con­stant in the con­flict is the con­stant flow of ter­ri­to­r­ial gains and losses and it remains to be seen if the regime can repli­cate its cap­ture of Homs in other parts of the country.

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