The inhabitants of the blockaded villages around Damascus have found a novel way to deal with the shortage of natural gas. They throw leftover food and animal dung into a pit that is three meters deep and three meters wide and lined with plastic sheeting, and they add water and cover it with more plastic sheeting. When the contents of the pit begin to ferment in a few days' time, a small pump is installed in the pit to suck out the gas. The pump is connected to a pipe, which is connected directly to gas stoves on which food is cooked.
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These villages, located in the district of Al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya, were the first to suffer from the chemical attack by the Syrian army in August 2013 and have been under siege ever since. Over the past few days, the Assad regime has intensified its attacks on these locales, mainly to avert the coordinated attack upon Damascus that they fear will come from Jordan, through the desert. The towns in the southern district of Daraa are also being shelled to prevent a possible attack from the direction of the Jordanian border.
According to reports in the Syrian media and on websites run by the opposition, Jordan is replacing – or perhaps has already replaced – Turkey as the rebels’ new base of operations. Every month, between 200 and 250 combat soldiers undergo exercises in the Jordanian special forces’ training base near the city of Salt.
Meanwhile, the United States is constructing runways for reconnaissance aircraft near the border between Jordan and Syria, and in recent weeks Saudi Arabia has flown weaponry and ammunition purchased in Ukraine to bases in Jordan. The Gulf states have sent many convoys of food and tents for use by new refugees.
All of this is apparently being done in preparation for a large military operation that reports say will originate in Jordan and extend across the desert in an attempt to reach Damascus. A military headquarters for coordinating actions in Syria has been established in Jordan. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Jordan are jointly planning the way the attack will be launched, and according to The Washington Post, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have already prepared a list of militias that will be receive advanced weaponry.
It appears that before Barack Obama’s trip next month to Saudi Arabia, and in light of that country’s harsh criticism of the American administration, the U.S. president will want to show military determination against Syria – as long as American troops are not involved in fighting on the ground.
According to reports, Israel has also been involved, and even provided active assistance in at least one attack by rebel troops four months ago, when its communications and intelligence base on Mount Hermon jammed the Syrian army’s communications system and the information relayed between its fighting forces and their headquarters.
Sources in the Free Syrian Army say that the goal at present is to establish a “security zone” inside Syrian territory, near the Jordanian border, from which rebel forces will mount attacks. They will be given more sophisticated weapons and communications systems, which have already arrived in the area, will be involved in coordinated efforts with the Americans and Jordanians, and will receive Saudi funding.
Moreover, the same sources also link the removal of Salim Idris from his position as chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council to the intention to form a new general staff under the command of Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, who is close to King Abdullah of Jordan. The new chief of staff will have to unify the dozens of militias operating in the Daraa area, and also try to bring together the units that are operating independently in northern and western Syria.
Actually, Idris has refused to accept his dismissal, and several of the Free Syrian Army top brass announced that they would continue to support him and take orders from him only. It appears that Idris was dismissed for trying to develop connections with Qatar – an effort that angered the Saudis, who are funding the Free Syrian Army.
All the preparatory efforts mentioned here appear to be evidence that the military option is not dead, and that the failure of the Geneva conference and the realization that a diplomatic solution is not on the horizon are only helping to make that option a reality.
Furthermore, it seems that Russia is also concerned about efforts to undertake such a military operation: It has not imposed a veto on the UN resolution on the issue of making humanitarian aid more accessible in Syria, so as to “prove” the success of diplomacy.
In any event, representatives of the Free Syrian Army believe that any attack – if and when it takes place – will be the “last chance” for a military move, and that if it should fail, the Free Syrian Army, which has not managed to garner any significant accomplishments on the ground recently, will lose its status and its support from outside parties.