In a major reversal of fortunes, Syrian rebels this week had to give up ground they had gained in Syria's largest city, the strategic prize of Aleppo. Government forces regained control of key areas with a two-day shelling offensive, leaving rebels no option but to retreat as they ran short on ammunition. Meanwhile President Bashar al-Assad is trying to show he's still in control after a flurry of setbacks — appearing on TV for the first time since four key members of his security team were killed in a rebel bombing, and appointing a new prime minister to replace one who defected. Would a conclusive Assad victory in Aleppo mark a turning point in Syria's civil war?
Both sides' fates hang on Aleppo: The rebel Free Syrian Army could gain the upper hand by seizing Aleppo, says Osama Al Sharif in the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News. That would give the rebels "uncontested control" in northern Syria, which they need to ensure a steady flow of arms and other supplies across the Turkish border. If Assad can reclaim the city, "at any price," however, he'll deliver a "massive military defeat" to the FSA. It won't end the uprising, but it will be decisive enough to buy Assad another chance.
"Battle for Aleppo won't stop civil war"
Decisive victory is out of Assad's reach: President Assad has been boasting that he'll crush the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo, says The Economist. "Yet despite a build-up of crack government troops backed by artillery, tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft, some 7,000 ill-armed rebels still control half the city's periphery and most of its center." Assad's ground troops are "already demoralized" — Assad's dreaming if he thinks they can pull off the ground offensive it would take to push the rebels out of Aleppo for good.
"An ever-lonelier leader"
Win or lose, the rebels have gained the upper hand: Don't read too much into the rebels' retreat, say Hadeel Al Shalchi and William Maclean at Reuters. Everyone knows the Free Syrian Army is "hopelessly outgunned," and Assad's military can put them on the run by unleashing its jets, helicopters, tanks, and artillery. But the rebels have become increasingly skilled in using the limited firepower at their disposal. In that sense, no matter what happens in Aleppo, the balance of firepower has already shifted to the rebels.
"Is Syria's balance of firepower close to a tipping point?"