Syria rebels' gains in Damascus surprise even them
In the video, two camouflage-clad rebel fighters crouch behind a dumpster firing their rifles as cars drive by at casual, everyday speeds. In the distance, impatient drivers honk as if the revolution had not arrived on this street in southern Damascus.
But if last week's surge of fighting and dramatic strike against the country's military command surprised the residents of the Syrian capital, none may have been more shocked than the rebels themselves.
They now face the daunting prospect of seizing a city that for the length of the Syrian uprising has been under a veneer of normality as the rest of the country broke out into an armed insurrection. In Aleppo, the country's second-largest city and commercial hub, clashes occurred in several neighborhoods late Friday and continued Saturday.
After the bombing Wednesday that killed four of President Bashar Assad's top military officials, the uprising has entered a crucial phase. But some question just how prepared the rebels are to sustain an onslaught against the army, security forces and shabiha militia members in the face of enduring challenges such as a shortage of weapons and a lack of unity among scores of armed opposition groups.
"The Free Syrian Army is moving quickly and well," said Moaz Shami, a leading activist in the capital. "But the road ahead is still long, and what the rebels did surpassed their abilities. I can't say that they will liberate Damascus."
Throughout much of the uprising, rebels with the Free Syrian Army, made up of army defectors and civilian volunteers, have been able to push regime forces out of areas, but they often don't have the ability to maintain control, especially when the army comes back with tanks, armored vehicles and attack helicopters.