Iran 'building militias' to take control of Syria if and when Assad regime falls

Battle lines redrawn as Assad regime hangs by thread in wake of rebels’ push into heart of capital

Beirut

A push by rebels towards the heart of the Syrian capital has prompted the most significant movement to stagnant battle lines in months, amid reports that Iran is building militias on the ground in preparation for the fall of the regime.

The “Battle of Armageddon”, as the rebels call it, saw the key eastern Damascus district of Jobar pounded by airstrikes again today after opposition fighters seized a base from pro-government forces. But while the offensive has brought violence a step closer to the centre of the city, analysts say that the push so far has not been “game changing” as rebels are struggling to hold on to their gains.

The civil war has grown increasingly fractured and chaotic as the conflict approaches its two-year anniversary. There was confusion today an after explosion struck cars queuing to cross into Syria on the country’s northern border with Turkey, killing at least seven people and wounding 33, according to Turkish officials.

The blast hit a vehicle queuing to pass the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is in the hands of the Free Syrian Army and is a key transit point for aid and refugees. It was unclear if the blast was a car bomb deliberately targeting the border, or an accident involving gas or explosives being transited into Syria.

In Damascus, the rebels have been in control of a crescent of outlying suburbs in the capital’s south and north-east. They began a new push for positions on the city’s southern ring road last week.

Opposition fighters seized the Al Musiqa base from loyalists on Sunday night, with videos posted online by activists showing members of the Armour of the Capital brigade arresting at least ten soldiers, making them lie face down on the ground. Another showed a large explosion as rebels launched their assault.

It was the third loyalist position seized in recent days in the Jobar area, which sits next to central Abbasid Square. Though the centre still remains largely unscathed, the offensive has increased nervousness in the capital.

“Many roads have been closed down and the situation is definitely escalating,” said a 29-year-old resident of the Mezzeh district. “The army have greatly increased their numbers and they have a very, very, tight fist around the central areas.”

In another rebel advance, opposition Islamist fighters from the Al Nusra Front seized the Taqba hydroelectric dam, built on the Euphrates River by former president Hafez al-Assad in the 1970s. The dam serves Aleppo, the country’s second city, with electricity.

Syria’s key allies Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, meanwhile, are preparing for the eventuality of the regime’s fall by building a 50,000-strong militia on the ground, according to a report in the Washington Post, which cited US and Middle Eastern officials. But it remains to be seen if any of the recent rebel gains will be lasting.

“Their modus operandi is to hit and run and they are still a guerrilla force,” said Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese general and professor at the American University of Beirut. “When they are well organised, have unity of command and are taking places and holding them, then it will be game changing.”  

Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition’s National Coalition, said he was still open to talks with the regime, despite them giving no response to his offer before a Sunday deadline.

“The regime has not given a clear answer so far, clearly, frankly, that it accepts leaving to spare destruction and blood,” he said after a meeting with the head of the Arab League in Cairo, where he is understood to have pushed for the coalition to be given Syria’s seat in the pan-Arab body.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?