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Regime, rebels seek to split Syria


A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on July 29, 2013 shows an aerial view of destruction in the al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood of the central Syrian city of Homs. The regime's new victory in Homs and rebel advances in the north and south of Syria are signs that both sides are looking to make headway before much-touted peace talks. (Shaam News Network/AFP/File)

The regime's new victory in Homs and rebel advances in the north and south of Syria are signs that both sides are looking to make headway before much-touted peace talks.

"Having consolidated its victory in Homs, the regime controls all the area stretching from Damascus to the coast," says analyst Karim Bitar of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

"The rebels control the north and the Euphrates valley area (Aleppo, Raqa and Deir Ezzor), while the Kurds, who are growing increasingly autonomous, hold the northeast," Bitar told AFP.

The Syrian government announced Monday the capture of Khaldiyeh, a key rebel district in Homs, Syria's third city and a symbol of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

The fall of Khaldiyeh came after a month-long offensive and more than a year into a suffocating siege of the neighbourhood.

It was the second win for Assad's regime in two months, after the army, with the help of fighters from Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, captured in June the rebel bastion of Qusayr.

The rebels have also scored their own victories in recent weeks.

Last Monday, they seized control of Khan al-Assal, the regime's last bastion in the west of Aleppo province near the Turkish border, after reportedly killing 150 loyalist troops.

Opposition fighters have also made significant gains in the southern province of Daraa -- known as the cradle of the uprising against Assad which is now in its third year -- despite massive regime bombardments.

Meanwhile, the Kurds, who constitute some 15 percent of Syria's population, strive to carve out an autonomous state in the north, amid concern from Turkey across the border.

"These positions will not likely develop in the near future and are already quite clear ahead of the Geneva 2 summit", Bitar said of the peace conference proposed by the United States and Russia.

"But the longer it takes for the summit to convene, the more a united Syrian state will be under threat.

"We are already seeing different legal systems, flags, and local economies and political bodies in place," across the country, he added.

Nevertheless, he said, it was not clear "what incentives could be offered through negotiations to the different parties, in order to convince them to give up their gains and go back to working under the umbrella of national unity".

Analysts say neither the regime nor the rebels are making military gains significant enough to give either side a real victory.

"We should see things for what they are: there is an impasse and each army or rebel advance is no more than a Pyrrhic victory" with a devastating cost for the victor, said Khattar Abou Diab

"Capturing a few square kilometres (miles) doesn't solve anything," said the analyst, a Middle East expert at Paris Sud university.

According to him "the West is stopping the regime from winning, while Russia, China and Iran are doing the same with the opposition.

"There will never be a victor, or a vanquished," he told AFP.

"The Syrian conflict has become a three-stage rocket -- one local, one regional and another international," he said, adding that the US and Russia hold the highest traction.

Despite US Secretary of State John Kerry's optimism, the Geneva summit appears difficult to convene because of major disagreements over the purpose of the talks and who would take part.

Abou Diab said a "global deal" was needed between Moscow and Washington, including the personal engagement of US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for a solution to be reached.

The Syria conflict, he warned, "will determine the fate of the Middle East for the coming years, if not decades."

Meanwhile, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "both sides think they can advance on the ground. It is an illusion".

"I don't think the states arming the rebels really think they can create a balance of forces on the ground. They're looking for partition," Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In the Old City of Homs, still under rebel control despite massive bombardment, anti-regime activist Abu Bilal voiced bitterness.

"They're all playing with us, the treacherous United States by standing with the ( exiled opposition) National Coalition, and Russia by siding with the regime. In the end, we are the losers."