Damascus fully liberated: Motivation and challenge

Thursday, 2018-05-24 11:37:02
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Syrian government forces on a destroyed street in the Hajar al-Aswad area on the southern outskirts of Damascus on Monday. (Photo: Getty)
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NDO – The Syrian capital of Damascus has been fully liberated after more than seven years of civil war, following the exit of the last militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). The Syrian army has been going ahead with campaigns in order to completely liberate the entire Syrian territory. However, the development of the Syrian crisis remains complicated and poses potential threats to security of the capital region.

The Syrian people celebrated the victory after the government troops reclaimed full control over Damascus and its suburban areas from IS. For the first time, the Syrian government said it would ensure that Damascus and its surrounding suburbs are “no longer under military threat”. The progress was achieved after the army regained the last extremist stronghold in southern Damascus, including the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

The victory in Damascus is seen as the result of fierce military campaigns conducted by the Syrian army on many fronts, including the strategic areas and the lands where IS had set up strong fortifications. In an attempt to regain control of the areas surrounding the capital city, the Damascus government signed a troop withdrawal agreement with the rebel forces, thus creating a safe path for the rebels and their families to evacuate, mainly to the northwestern region of Syria. In the past two months, approximately 110,000 people have been evacuated to this area and the areas occupied by rebel fighters in Aleppo.

Although the military victory helped the Syrian government troops to overturn the balance of power on the field, the potential risks remain a major challenge to the Damascus administration. The civil war in Syria, triggered by outside interference, has become a complex and unpredictable crisis. Recently, the Russian Reconciliation Centre for Syria announced that the agency and the Syrian government troops discovered numerous arsenals of weapons manufactured by NATO member states and underground explosives manufacturing establishments in a number of areas that have just been freed from the rebels. The Syrian government repeatedly reported having found the weapons of rebel fighters which have been produced by Israel or the NATO nations. In fact, since 2011, the US-led anti-terrorist coalition has provided weapons to support the “moderate opposition” groups in Syria. Both the Pentagon media and officials once admitted that many of the weapons, supplied by the coalition, had fallen into the hands of IS forces or the Al-Nusra Front linked with al-Qaeda. Therefore, the risk that rebels own “modern killing machines” is a big threat to security as the force is still in control of vast unencircled areas in the northwestern and southwestern regions bordering Turkey and Jordan.

The recent escalation of tension between Israel and Syria has also had a negative impact on the military campaigns of the Syrian government troops in the fight against the rebels. More recently, many Israeli fighters have engaged in offensive campaigns aimed at the Iranian positions in various parts of Syria, including the location of the Syrian army’s air defense system near the capital of Damascus and southern Syria. Although the Israeli side claimed the move was a response to a rocket attack that was allegedly launched by the Iranian forces in Syria on the Israeli military bases in the Golan Heights, the increasing confrontation between Israel and Iran adds oil to the fire, threatening the security of Syria. The Syrian government stated that the Israeli missiles were targeted at several Syrian military installations, radar stations and arsenals. Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy for Syria, said that the reports on the Iranian and Israeli involvement in Syria showed worrisome signs of the escalation of tension, which has been unprecedented in this region since 1973.

The IS gunners leaving the capital of Damascus is seen as an important step in the Syrian battlefield, and a big motivation for the Syrian government troops to carry out their campaigns to liberate the entire country. However, the evolution on the “Syrian chessboard” still depends on many factors. The door to peace for the Middle East nation can only be opened if crisis-handling measures focus on promoting dialogue, ending conflict, and avoiding outside interference.