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Eleventh-hour Syrian carnage escalates
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Free Syrian Army rebels are pressing every possible advantage towards a victory. Even a senior Russian source said on Thursday that could no longer be ruled out. That was the Kremlin’s Middle East envoy, according to Russian news services. Now, the Foreign Ministry has poured cold water on what it called rebel claims.

But there are signs that fighting has moved in on Damascus. The rebels are reported to have managed to extend a front in a south-to-southwest arc outside the capital.

The government forces rely on air power, planes and helicopters, to attack rebel positions. The defenders video raids and upload them onto the Internet.

The audio in one identifies MIG fighter jets: “MIGs are bombing Deir al Zor.”

The Mezzeh military airport is at Deir al Zor.

Video posted online by the rebels is said to be of rockets launched from that location.

NATO and the US have accused the Syrian government of using (much bigger) unguided ballistic missiles – SCUDs – launched inside Syria. Damascus has denied it. A White House spokesman said this showed a disproportionate and desperate escalation.

Rebels at Kafrbatna said incendiary bombs had been air-dropped. Human Rights Watch analysts backed this up and condemned the munitions’ use in a populated area, noting a potential for “especially cruel civilian suffering.”

The same was reported at Aqraba, with rebel video offered as evidence, and in two other locations. Human Rights Watch noted these flammable weapons can burn to the bone. Treatment is extremely painful, also very difficult in conflict areas lacking adequate medical facilities. The coverage is broad, so there can’t be any discriminating between soldiers and civilians. Syria is not one of the 106 countries that have prohibited air-delivered incendiaries.

Other video, on state television, showed the effects of a car bomb attack by rebels in Qatana, a residence for many military families; there are bases nearby. This killed 16 people, children included. It is evidence of rebel hit and run attacks in areas where the people are pro-Assad.

Another car bomb and two additional improvised explosive devices this week badly damaged an Interior Ministry building in Kafar Souseh, a part of Damascus near front line fighting between Assad forces and the rebels.

Meanwhile, the president is keeping up media communication efforts. Footage broadcast on national television the day before the Ministry bombing showed him in a public meeting with Islamic teachers who work in and around the capital in institutes and mosques.

He has steadfastly said he will not be leaving.

In an interview in November, Assad said: “I’m not a puppet. I wasn’t made by the West to go to the West or to any other country. I’m Syrian. I’m made in Syria and I have to live in Syria and die in Syria.”

London-based NGO the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 40,000 Syrians have died in the civil war – about half of them civilians – and that rebels and the regime probably under-report their dead.

Paul McDowell, euronews:

President Assad has talked of fighting to the end. Do you think he will really cling on and create a bloody end to this conflict ?

Christiane Amanpour:

Look, there is no indication that he will do anything other than fight on. None of the entreaties to have a transition, to talk to the opposition, do what the international community has asked (which is to have a political resolution), have been received by him.

So it does look like he’s going to fight on and everybody believes that he will not survive in the end. But there seems to be no real indication that he’s on his last legs right now.

And many officials that I’ve spoken to, including US officials, believe that there is no sign yet that the regime is about to crack any time soon, but it will happen eventually.

Paul McDowell, euronews:

Should the western powers be preparing for it? How should they been thinking of acting politically, militarily (because) there’s the potential of a vacuum there?

Christiane Amanpour:

I think the longer the West and the international community has left this, the self-fulfilling prophecy has come to be; that there is a vacuum that has been filled by all sorts of rebel groups but most particularly by a lot of jihadi groups; and you’ve seen the US nominate one of them – Al Nousra – as a terrorist organisation this past week.

What you’re seeing is that because there has been no international intervention, these people have come in and filled that space.

They’re disciplined, they have a mission, they are professional fighters and they are Arabs from
very different parts of that region who are linked very deeply – in fact are part of – Al Qaeda in Iraq. And this is a very dangerous development and this has happened because there has been no other intervention and they have come in to bolster the rebel forces. How that gets resolved after Assad falls is going to be the big, big question.

Paul McDowell, euronews:

What are the fears for the region – not just Syria and the tragedy for the people there – what might happen in that region?

Christiane Amanpour:

The real problem is that the United States and the West have no “skin” in the game. In other words they don’t have real connections with the real people fighting on the ground.

Now we’ll see what happens with this new Syrian Opposition Council. They’ve tried to come together but can they actually affect what’s going on on the ground? That to me is the most dangerous development. The longer that this has been left as a void and a vacuum, the less influence the US and the West has and the more influence the jihadis, the salafists and frankly the terrorists have in Syria.

Paul McDowell, euronews:

Christiane Amanpour, thanks for joining us on euronews.

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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