The Syrian civil war rages on while the United States and its allies focus on stopping the spread of the Islamic State group. President Bashar Assad is capitalizing on the diversion by trying to strengthen his hold near Damascus and Aleppo, the two largest cities in Syria.
The Syrian government conducted more than 200 airstrikes in 36 hours between Sunday and Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press. On Oct. 13 alone, Assad’s forces carried out 40 airstrikes. That’s double the usual number, according to the Economist.
"If ever there was a time when the Syrian regime had everything lined up for them to do so, this is it," naval analyst Christopher Harmer told the AP. "It is in a very favorable position and it's got the opportunity to execute major offensives around Damascus and Aleppo. I just don't think they have the resources to do it successfully."
An Al Arabiya News report cited sources who said the Syrian army, with the help of Iranian, Lebanese and Afghan groups, recently advanced into areas around Aleppo – namely, the nearby town of Al-Jubaila. Rebel sources told the Al Arabiya News that Assad’s army is using toxic gases.
Assad’s forces may also start a starvation campaign in the area that could affect 300,000 people. Under attack are mainstream rebels, which include both moderate and more Islamic factions, according to the AP.
The Syrian army is staying out of the way in areas under Islamic State control, and they’re ensuring that no Syrian operations conflict with U.S.-allied aircraft. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have emphasized their priority is the militant group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, because it endangers Americans. "Our present military action in Syria is focused on threats presented by ISIL and other extremists," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Alistair Baskey told the AP.