Friday, July 27, 2012

"In God's Hands Only"

"The army's reinforcements have arrived in Aleppo.  We expect a major offensive at any time, specifically on areas across the southern belt, from east to west.  There's no way to compare our capacity to theirs.  They have tanks, we have medium and light weapons.  But we believe in our struggle; they are fighting for nothing."  Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, spokesman, Free Syrian Army

There is a straggle of regime forces, a garrison stranded in the area held by the rebels.  But they're not surrendering to the rebels.  "We think they are still in touch with the army and are being promised reinforcements.  The other night they shelled us.  There were 40 martyrs.  They are targeting the apartment buildings and the houses.  I had to take the little ones away from all that.  No one knows who will be next."

Although the rebels who are now in control of al-Bab, a small market town in not far from Aleppo feel triumphant at the moment, they also acknowledge that they have few supplies.  Rebel fighters must share assault rifles.  Between them they secure a few dozen rounds of ammunition.  They are clearly not invincible.

They are conflicted about whether they should remain where they are to defend the town from a counter-attack, or march on to Aleppo.  There is little communication, less unity, and they lack the urge to co-operate in an overall strategy.

President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fierce instructions not to rest until they have prevented Aleppo from falling into rebel hands.  Another hundred tanks have been sent to the city, from Idlib, which now appears to be solidly in rebel hands.  In areas controlled by the FSA tensions among ethnic and sectarian groups are rising; former neighbours are now more acutely aware of tribal divides.

Turkey is known to have supplied some of the rebel forces with arms.  In al-Bab, however, there are no rocket-propelled grenade launchers and roadside bombs.  Rebel fighters are hoping that weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar will trickle through to their area, knowing at the same time that if they managed to seize an armoury from security forces they would effectively equip themselves.

Armed as they are, they would be impotent to respond to an armoured column, sent to reinforce the military base outside al-Bab where rival factions are dominating the town, and where Shabiha militants are fuelling local disputes.  "This is the calm before the storm. We are very nervous now and no one is leading us.

"Our fate is in God's hands only."

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