Syrian opposition leader Colonel Riyad al-As'ad, commander of the Syria Free Army, said on Wednesday that around half of the country is no longer under the control of President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The Syria Free Army - which has managed to recruit over 25,000 army deserters and citizens so far - has apparently refrained from taking control of more territory out of fear that the regime would respond with more force and yield a significant increasing in the number of casualties.

This is also apparently the reason that the opposition group retreated from the suburbs of the capital Damascus on Sunday, following an attack by regime forces, in which opposition forces were shelled, and fired on by tanks.

Opposition sources have also reported that President Assad has decided to split the responsibilities of his top military officers, taking away from Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Daoud Rajha the sole mandate for dealing with the crisis that has gripped Syria since March last year.

The mandate has passed partly to former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani, who will be responsible for military operations, while General Jamil al-Hassan will be tasked with repression and arrest of opposition members organizing demonstration in the streets. Two of President Assad’s nephews, Rami Makhlouf and Hani Makhlouf, will be charged with logistics.

Assad’s brother and brother-in-law will be tasked with imposing a blockade on families of the Syrian political establishment, in order to prevent them from defecting.

If these reports are correct, they point to a very heavy pressure on Assad, and indicate fear bordering on hysteria as to what is happening in Syria.

Today, despite an increase in the number of defectors, the highest ranks of the military are still loyal to the regime. Some of those who have defected indicate that there are splits among the ranks whose origin is battles of ego within the ranks themselves, as opposed to a real opposition to the Assad regime.

It seems that some of the senior officers who recently defected intend to set up their own headquarters for the defector army, and it is not clear whether the commander of the “Syria Free Army” will join them or whether he will manage “his army” separately.

Violence continued on Wednesday as the opposition reported that at least 20 people were killed by Syrian government forces in a restive area on the outskirts of Damascus.

The deaths in the area of Reef Damascus included six army defectors, Syrian activist Ayman Idlibi told DPA.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Arab League and Western powers said at a UN Security Council meeting they were not seeking military action to end the bloodshed in Syria, in an effort to bring Russia and China onboard for a solution.

The high profile council meeting in New York was attended by several government ministers and a high-ranking delegation from the Arab League.

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