Fierce clashes in Yabrud as Syria war enters fourth year

March 16, 2014 - 6:02:34 am

Nawal Abdul of Dearborn, Michigan (right), wears an American flag as her family waves Syrian flags while joining dozens of protesters to mark the third anniversary of the Syrian revolution in Lafayette Park, in Washington, yesterday. 

DAMASCUS: Syrian troops advanced yesterday on the key rebel bastion of Yabrud as the country’s civil war entered its fourth year, with more than 146,000 dead, millions displaced and peace efforts stalled.

Army troops were locked in fierce clashes with rebel forces, including the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, after they entered the town on Friday.

The strategic stronghold is the last rebel-held town in the Qalamun region, which lies along the border with Lebanon and on the key highway between Damascus and third city Homs.

The latest fighting illustrated the intractability of the conflict that began on March 15, 2011 after popular uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protests erupted in Syria’s southern city of Daraa after teenagers were arrested over graffiti declaring: “The people want the fall of the regime.”

President Bashar Al Assad’s regime reacted with force, and people began to die in the demonstrations that grew week after week.

Civilians took up arms, soldiers began to desert and an insurgency became full-scale civil war after the regime bombed the central city of Homs in February 2012.

Two years later, the war appears to have reached stalemate, with some predicting it could last another 10 or 15 years, like the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon.

Rebels control large swathes of the country, but are fighting both the regime and an 

Al Qaeda-inspired group they once welcomed.

And the government holds the more densely-populated regions, seeking to protect “useful Syria” — the coast, major towns and key roads.

The regime is advancing on three fronts, south of Damascus, in the strategic Qalamun region and in Aleppo in the north.

In Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, the regime has retained the city’s west, while advancing around the outskirts of the rebel-held east and securing and reopening the nearby airport.

Syria’s mostly exiled political opposition has secured Western recognition but is largely ignored by rebels on the ground.

And it failed to achieve any progress in long-mooted talks with the regime in Geneva earlier this year, with the opposition demanding Assad step down and the regime ruling out that possibility. AFP

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