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Terrorism & Security

With double bombing in Damascus, is Syria's frontline moving to the capital? (+video)

Battles around Damascus have important implications for Syria's conflict, but Aleppo is likely to remain the central focus until either the rebels or government forces can sustain the upper hand.

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"Then the fighters went inside and clashed with security inside, while some of the men started to torch the building," he said. 

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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That tallied with accounts from residents who heard gunfire and smaller blasts after the first explosions.

"The explosions were very loud. They shook the whole city and the windows of our house were shuddering," one resident reached by telephone said.

In an article for Time, Rania Abouzeid cautions that the attacks in Damascus are not a sign that the battle will soon be shifting to the capital from the primary battleground of Aleppo.

Wednesday’s bombing is a psychological boost to the rebels, but what will it translate to on the ground? Is it a precursor to a sustained fight for Damascus? That’s unlikely given that Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its commercial hub, is still being fought over – a situation that has lasted for two months now. There, streets, and street corners, continue to regularly change hands, the to-ing and fro-ing eroding the social and material infrastructure of one of the world’s oldest cities. Aleppo’s battles are very parochial fights, sometimes over a patch of a single street, but they have vast national implications and until a decisive blow is dealt, either to the rebels or the loyalists, it’s unlikely that the overstretched rebels will make a sustained push for the capital.

The New York Times notes that the rebels around Aleppo have made inroads toward negating the Assad regime's major military advantage: its air powerCJ Chivers writes that the rebels, using infantry armed mostly with rifles, have been able to lay siege to Abu ad Duhur Air Base south of Aleppo.  The troops have had enough success at shooting down aircraft – at least two MIG fighters have been brought down – that the Syrian Air Force has stopped fights to and from the base.

“We are facing aircraft and shooting down aircraft with captured weapons,” said Jamal Marouf, a commander credited by the fighters with downing the first MIG-21 here. “With these weapons we are preventing aircraft from landing or taking off.”

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For the rebels, managing to deny the use of this airfield has undermined the government’s ability to exert its full authority in some parts of the country. It has also improved the morale of fighters who remain severely outgunned.

The rebels’ boldness, and their success, have not been painless. The army units inside the base have tanks, artillery and mortars. When attacked, the soldiers often respond by firing barrages of high-explosive rounds into the nearby town, in what amounts to a tactic of collective punishment against civilians. The effects are evident in the center of town, where block after block of buildings have been shattered. “This is the army, taking revenge,” said another fighter, Abu Razaq.

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