ISIL attacked the Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, killing at least 24 people with a car bomb and explosive belt-wearing terrorist.
A mainly Alawite district was targeted, the same tribe of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is just the latest example of the Muslim extremists’ ability to strike anywhere in Syria, despite the Russians having entered the civil war on al-Assad’s side and their bombing campaign.
The Syrian army is back on the offensive thanks to Moscow’s air support, but the army lacks manpower, and does not seem to be winning back much territory, despite recent successes. The towns and villages it has retaken had been held by anti-Assad rebels.
A few days ago government forces retook Rabia in the northwest, in rebel hands since 2012. It is an important prize in Latakia province, the Assad family birthplace, and opens up the road to the north.
Salma also fell, and then notably Al dar al-Kabirah. All are needed to regain control of the Aleppo motorway that links Syria’s business hub with the centre of the country.
The rebels have used the road to supply their forces in Aleppo and Idlib, among others. It is vital they hold it. However if the general situation is taken into account, Assad is far from regaining control of his country. The rebels may be caught in a vice, but in fact it is ISIL gaining ground.
Salma’s 10,000 inhabitants came back under Damascus’s wing in mid-January, with help from the Russians. The rebels are being forced into the north, and the situation for their forces on the ground is becoming more perilous. Officially the Russians are here to hit ISIL. The rebels say the Islamists get off lightly compared to them.
Facts on the ground seem to bear this out. Otherwise how to explain another town, Deir al-zor in the east, falling to ISIL a few days ago? No planes flew to the town’s aid, and government troops, busy with the Free Syrian Army, were nowhere to be seen.