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Just who are the rebels and why is the fight here against Syria’s regime dragging on so long?
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In light of the existence of such hardline elements, we can appreciate better the reports of the formation of Christian defense militias to protect Christian neighborhoods and churches in Aleppo. In addition, there have been reports of Christian residents fleeing from areas like Midan in Aleppo to Beirut in Lebanon and Tartous on the Syrian coast.
As happened in Iraq post-2003, Christians in Aleppo have been very much caught in the middle of all the violence, facing attacks on churches (from mortar fire) and kidnappings. Of course, other civilians will have suffered the latter to a degree as well.
The overall picture, where the rebels still face difficulties in navigating through the city, growing local resentment, and possible reinforcements for regime forces, points to an ongoing battle that is unlikely to end soon, with perhaps slow gains on aggregate for the rebels in a similar manner to how the Libyan rebels’ fight against Gaddafi progressed over months during the Libyan civil war.
A further impediment exists if rebels clash with Kurdish militiamen (Popular Protection Units and the PKK) in Aleppo, who are still aiming to maintain a neutral position in the conflict and have apparently taken on rebels and regime forces when provoked. Pace the rebel propaganda, the Kurdish fighters are not assisting the regime but rather simply want the Tawheed Brigade et al. to leave the Kurdish areas of Aleppo alone.
In the event of the regime’s downfall, a significant tension may arise between native rebels and the foreign jihadists, perhaps spilling into all-out conflict between the two sides in Aleppo.
In this scenario, one could see the jihadists eventually entrenching themselves rather as al Qaeda has done in Mosul in Iraq today: that is, establishing an extensive extortion network to fund operations. A similar development could take place in Deir ez-Zor.