Any end in sight? Syrian conflict enters third calendar year

Many believed 2012 would be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's last year in power, but at the outset of 2013 the conflict appears locked in a stalemate with alarming fatality rates.

Shaam News Network via AP video/AP
In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke rises from buildings due to heavy shelling in Damascus countryside, Syria, Wednesday, Jan. 2

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The Syrian civil war entered its third calendar year with rebel forces displaying increased military prowess but still lacking adequate weapons and organization to gain a decisive edge over government forces.

At the outset of 2012, many observers predicted it would be President Bashar al-Assad's last year, but now in 2013 the conflict appears locked in a stalemate with alarming fatality rates. 

According to UK-based opposition group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 85 percent of the roughly 45,000 Syrians they estimate have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011 were killed in 2012. CNN reports that United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi expects that number to climb

"Do not expect just 25,000 people to die next year – maybe 100,000 will die," he said earlier this week. "The pace is increasing."

The opposition Local Coordination Committees told CNN that at least 136 people were killed yesterday, the first day of the year, alone. There were clashes in eight provinces, the heaviest in and around the capital of Damascus and Aleppo. 

Aerial bombardments by the Syrian Air Force have been responsible for many of those 45,000 fatalities. In rebel-controlled northwestern Syria, a strip of land running between Aleppo and the Turkish border, rebel forces have made it a priority to take over aviation facilities to rob the Air Force of its ability to bomb the area. They consider the regime's air power its "main threat" because they can do little to stop attacks by helicopters and jets, even in territory they hold on the ground.

Today they launched an offensive against a military airbase near Taftanaz in northwestern Syria, which they have attempted to take before, Associated Press reports. Reuters reports that the base has more than 40 helicopter landing pads, a runway, and aircraft hangars.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, which the US designated a terrorist organization last month, is involved with the assault on the Taftanaz base, according to Reuters.

Yesterday, fighting near Aleppo's international airport prompted a halt to all flights in and out of the city, which is Syria's commercial hub and largest city. Rebels have also been staging assaults on three other airports in Aleppo province, according to AP, including a military helicopter airbase closer to the Turkish border.

Agence France-Presse reports that the rebel attacks forced the closure of the commercial airport in Aleppo. Rebels have warned that they consider both military and civilian aircraft legitimate targets because they believe civilian flights have been used to supply the military.

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