Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – In light of the noticeable development in the Free Syrian Army [FSA]’s military operations, not to mention the escalated pace of defections from the regular army’s forces, the FSA has announced that it is gearing up to take the fight to the al-Assad regime in Damascus. Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, FSA commander Colonel Riad al-Asaad revealed that “preparations for the battle of Damascus are underway and are in full swing, particularly as this operation – which will be the final and decisive confrontation with the regime – requires special preparations and arrangements”. He added “this has led to the battle being postponed so far; however once it starts it will be resolved quickly, within a matter of weeks.”
The FSA commander also stressed that “with regards to today, you could say that the situation has changed. We are now able to take decisions at the right time, after the FSA seized weapons at depots affiliated to the regime, in addition to those present in the border regions.” However al-Asaad denied that the FSA had been given surface-to-air missiles enabling them to bring down regime helicopters.
Colonel al-Asaad refused to explicitly confirm or deny whether the FSA is currently present in Damascus, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that “our presence can be ascertained by the operations we carry out, in Damascus and the surrounding area, and a number of such operations were carried out in different locations across the capital, not far from the presidential palace.”
As for the importance of the battle reaching Damascus, and indeed the presidential palace where al-Assad is staying, Colonel al-Asaad told Asharq Al-Awsat “the presidential palace will not decide the battle, rather what is important is capturing the military units that surround the palace, including the Fourth Armored Division and the Republican Guards” He added “initiating the battle in Damascus will have a positive impact on the pace of defections from the al-Assad regime, particularly amongst its leadership, after everybody becomes aware that the regime is facing its end.”
The FSA commander also claimed that the Syrian regime has issued commands “claiming that all Sunni officers are part of a sleeper cell and ordering their deaths”, adding “this is after more than 3,000 officers were arrested.”
For his part, Syrian National Council [SNC] member Bashar al-Haraki told Asharq Al-Awsat that the decisive battle for Damascus is fast approaching. He said “the FSA has been preparing for this battle for some time now, and the best example of this can be seen in the military operations that have taken place in the capital, in addition to the FSA’s presence in Damascus and the surrounding areas.”
Al-Haraki added that “the FSA’s previous capabilities did not allow for it to initiate the battle for Damascus, but today – following the development of its operations, its targeting of sites in Damascus, and its acquisition of more weapons – we can say that the FSA is ready for this battle.”
He also stressed that “the situation is approaching the end game and there is no need to wait for countries to fulfill their pledges to arm the FSA, as the FSA is prepared to fight the battle now.” He added “the regime’s forces that are stationed throughout the country are exhausted and fragmented, and this has forced even those surrounding the presidential palace to be deployed in operations outside of Damascus, not to mention the escalating pace of defections across the entire military spectrum and including senior officers.”
It is worth noting that the military battles between the FSA and the al-Assad regime’s forces have escalated significantly over the past two weeks, with confrontations taking place within the Syrian capital itself. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed that violent clashes broke out in the Damascus districts of Qaboun, Qudsaya and Dummar last week between the FSA and Republican Guards, just 8 km from Umayyad Square in the center of the city. Security in Damascus has been significantly tightened, particularly around government headquarters and the presidential palace.
Media reports also claimed that the Syrian opposition is preparing to assault Damascus with the objective of confronting and toppling the al-Assad regime. Reports claim that the FSA is preparing to besiege the Syrian capital with a total of 30,000 troops. One source told the media that meetings were being held in Turkey between the FSA leadership and Arab and western military and intelligence apparatuses to discuss the logistics and details with regards to taking the battle to the heart of Damascus.