As the world focuses on Aleppo city, rebels in the capital have made impressive gains. The current round of fighting can be traced to the creation of the Ansar al-Islam Brigade on August 8. This new formation, possibly modeled on the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo, brought together seven distinct rebel groups into a single formation. It is still unclear if there is command and control across the group, or if it simply creates a formal mechanism for effective coordination, but events in southern Damascus over the past week have proven the formation’s effectiveness. The fight began in earnest on August 16 in the neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad. The following day the fighting spread across southern Damascus, from the Mezzeh military airport in the west and to Daf al-Shuk near the city center. The fighting has continued ever since in many of Damascus’ southern neighborhoods, often creeping across the Southern-Ring Road. It appears that the rebels of Ansar al-Islam are likely to maintain their offensive longer than the rebels were able to during the Battle for Midan this past July.
The rebels’ ability to maintain pressure in Damascus will make it impossible for the regime to send further reinforcements north to Aleppo city. The regime has always struggled to fight major battles concurrently, always favoring successive action. Ansar al-Islam’s offensive in southern Damascus may force the regime to weigh which city they need more. Aleppo or Damascus.