It has been a disastrous few months for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria following a string of military defeats at the hands of rebels.
Assad’s forces have been driven out of the northern province of Idlib, while his troops are said to be planning to abandon the key eastern city of Deir el-Zour to the Islamic State (ISIS). His grip on Aleppo, once the economic powerhouse, is also slipping.
Syrian rebels have been battling the regime for four years following Assad’s brutal repression of the Arab Spring revolution that erupted in the country in 2011. The regime crushed the largely peaceful movement that erupted against his family’s decades-old dictatorship. His forces rounded up and murdered tens of thousands of activists after the majority of towns and cities fell under popular control in the summer of 2012.
The regime turned to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, as well as Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan militias flown in to prop up his regime. His airforce had pounded rebel cities, often with crude barrel bombs rolled out of helicopters.
But far from securing victory, it has simply delayed his defeat. Now his regime face a well organised coalition of rebel forces under the hegemony of Islamists, many of whom are backed by Gulf kingdoms.