Capitalizing on a recent influx of weapons, Syrian rebels are waging a strategic battle for the southern part of the country and seeking to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to Damascus in preparation for an eventual assault on the capital.
On Friday, the rebels celebrated their latest victory: They seized full control of Dael, a key town along a main highway, after forces of President Bashar Assad’s regime all but withdrew from the area.
“God is great! We are coming, Bashar!” armed fighters cried overnight Thursday after they captured the last of the military checkpoints in the town where Assad’s forces had been holed up, according to amateur video posted online.
Dael is one of the bigger towns in the southern Daraa province, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, when security forces arrested high school students who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall.
Activists say it was in Dael that the first statue of Assad’s father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad, first was toppled shortly after the protests broke out.
The regime responded with a ferocious military crackdown in the area. For a long time, it succeeded in muting the revolt there while government troops turned their attention to defending Syria’s northern and eastern regions against rebel advances as the uprising turned into a civil war in which an estimated 70,000 people have been killed.
But in dusty agricultural towns and villages across the province, the rebels recently have gone on the offensive, expanding their presence with a renewed sense of purpose. The rebel fighters include Islamic militants.