In mid-December 2012, American officials said that the Syrian military had resorted to firing Scud ballistic missiles at rebel fighters inside Syria. Reportedly, six Scud missiles were fired at the Sheikh Suleiman base north of Aleppo, which rebel forces had occupied. It is unclear whether the Scuds hit the intended target. The government denied this claim. Later that month, a further Scud attack took place near Marea, a town in a rebel-held area north of Aleppo near the Turkish border. The missile appeared to have missed its target. That same month, the British Daily Telegraph reported that the FSA had now penetrated into Latakia province’s Mediterranean coast through Turkey, and that the Syrian government’s forces were unable to repel the FSA invasion thus far.
In late December, rebel forces pushed further into Damascus, taking control of the adjoining Yarmouk and Palestine refugee camps, pushing out fighters from the pro-government Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command with the help of other factions. Rebel forces launched an offensive against army positions in Hama province, later claiming to have forced army regulars to evacuate several towns and bases, and stating that “three-quarters of western rural Hama is under our control.” Rebels also captured the northern town of Harem near the Turkish border in Idlib province, after weeks of heavy fighting.
On 11 January, Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, took full control of the strategic Taftanaz air base in the northern Idlib province, after weeks of fighting. The air base, one of the largest in northern Syria, was often used by the military to carry out helicopter raids and deliver supplies. The rebels claimed to have seized helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launchers, and other military equipment, before being forced to withdraw by a government counter-attack. The leader of the Al-Nusra brigade said the amount of weapons they took was a “game changer”.
On 11 February, Islamist rebels captured the town of Al-Thawrah in Raqqa province and the nearby Tabqa Dam, Syria’s largest dam and a key source of hydroelectricity. The next day, rebel forces took control of Jarrah air base, located 60 kilometres (37 mi) east of Aleppo. The base had been used to launch bombing raids in Aleppo province, and had served as an important supply line for the Assad regime. On 14 February, fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra took control of Shadadeh, a town located in Hasakah province near the Iraqi border.
On 20 February, a car bomb exploded in the Mazraa neighborhood of Damascus near the Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch headquarters, killing at least 53 people and injuring more than 235. None of the organized groups on either side in the conflict claimed responsibility.
On 21 February, the FSA in Quasar began shelling Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. Prior to this, Hezbollah militants had been shelling villages near Quasar from within Lebanon. A 48-hour ultimatum was issued by a FSA commander on 20 February, warning the militant group to stop the attacks or face retaliation.
On 2 March, intense clashes between rebels and the Syrian Army erupted in the north-central city of Raqqa, with many reportedly killed on both sides. On the same day, Syrian troops regained several villages along the highway near Aleppo.
By 3 March, rebels had overrun Raqqa’s central prison, allowing them to free hundreds of prisoners, according to the SOHR. The SOHR also claimed that rebel fighters were now in control of most of an Aleppo police academy in Khan al-Asal, and that over 200 rebels and government troops had been killed fighting for control of it.
On 4 March, rebel forces launched an offensive to capture Raqqa outright. By 6 March, the rebels had captured the entire city, effectively making Raqqa the first provincial capital to be lost by the Assad regime. Residents of Raqqa celebrated by reportedly tearing down a huge poster of Assad, and toppling a bronze statue of his late father Hafez Assad in the centre of the city. The rebels also seized two top government officials.
On 18 March, the Syrian Air Force attacked rebel positions in Lebanon for the first time. The attack occurred at the Wadi al-Khayl Valley area, near the border town of Arsal.
On 21 March, a suspected suicide bombing in the Iman Mosque in Mazraa district killed as many as 41 people, including the high profile Pro Assad Sunni cleric, Sheikh Mohammed al-Buti.
On 23 March, several rebel groups seized the 38th division air defense base in southern Daraa province near a strategic highway linking Damascus to Jordan. On the next day, rebels captured a 25 km strip of land near the Jordanian border, which included the towns of Muzrib, Abdin, and the al-Rai military checkpoint.
On 25 March, rebels launched one of their heaviest bombardments of Central Damascus since the revolt began, with mortars reportedly hitting Umayyad Square, where Baath Party headquarters, Air Force Intelligence and state television are also located. The attack was launched when rebel forces advanced into the Kafr Souseh district of Damascus.
On 26 March, near the Syrian town of al-Qusayr, rebel commander Khaled al Hamad, who commands the Al Farooq al-Mustakilla Brigade and is also known by his nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, ate the heart and liver of a dead soldier and said “I swear to God, you soldiers of Bashar, you dogs, we will eat from your hearts and livers! O heroes of Bab Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take out their hearts to eat them!” in an apparent attempt to increase sectarianism. Video of the event emerged two months later and resulted in considerable outrage, especially from Human Rights Watch which classified the incident as a war crime. According to the BBC, it was one of the most gruesome videos to emerge from the conflict up-to-date.
On 29 March, rebels captured the strategic town of Da’el after days of fierce fighting. The town is located in Daraa Province, along the strategic highway connecting Damascus to Jordan.
On 3 April, rebels captured a military base near the city of Daraa.Government and Hezbollah offensives (April–June 2013)
On 17 April, government forces breached a six-month rebel blockade in Wadi al-Deif, near Idlib. Heavy fighting has been reported around the town of Babuleen after government troops outflanked weakened rebel positions with troops now attempting to secure control of a main highway leading to Aleppo. The break in the siege also allowed government forces resupply two major military bases in the region which had been relying on sporadic airdrops.
On 18 April, the FSA took control of Al-Dab’a Air Base near the city of al-Qusayr. The base had no aircraft and was being used primarily to garrison ground troops. Meanwhile, the Syrian Army took control over the town of Abel. The SOHR director described the Army takeover of the town by saying that it will hamper rebel movements between al-Qusayr and Homs city. According to him, the capture of the airport would have relieved the pressure on the rebels in the area, but their loss of Abel made the situation more complicated. The same day, rebels also reportedly assassinated Ali Ballan, who was head of public relations at the Ministry of Social Affairs and a member of Syria’s relief agency, in a restaurant at Mazzeh district in Damascus.
On 21 April, government forces captured the town of Jdaidet al-Fadl, near Damascus.
In April, government and Hezbollah forces launched an offensive to capture rebel-held areas near al-Qusayr. On 21 April, pro-Assad forces captured the towns of Burhaniya, Saqraja and al-Radwaniya near the Lebanese border. By this point, eight villages had fallen to the government offensive in the area.
On 24 April, after five weeks of fighting, government troops seized control of the town of Otaiba, east of Damascus. The town had been under rebel control for the previous eight months, serving as the main arms supply route from Jordan. Meanwhile in the north of the country, rebels took control of a key position on the edge of the strategic Mennagh Military airbase, on the outskirts of Aleppo. This allowed them to enter the airbase after months of besieging it.
On 2 May, government forces captured the town of Qaysa which lies to the east of Damascus in a steady push north from the city’s airport. Troops also retook the Wadi al-Sayeh central district of Homs, driving a wedge between two rebel strongholds. SOHR reported a massacre of over 100 people in the coastal town of Al Bayda, Baniyas, when the Syrian army stormed the town. However, this could not be independently verified due to movement restrictions on the ground. Yet the multiple video images that residents said they had recorded in Bayda and Ras al-Nabeh — particularly of small children, were so shocking that even some government supporters rejected Syrian television’s official version of events, that the army had simply “crushed a number of terrorists.”
On 3 May, the Syrian army backed by the Shabiha reportedly committed a massacre of civilians near the city of Baniyas. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 50 people – and possibly as many as 100 – were killed. Witnesses said the dead were killed with knives or blunt objects and that dozens of villagers were still missing.
On 8 May, government forces captured the strategic town of Khirbet Ghazaleh, situated along the highway to the Jordanian border. Over 1,000 rebel fighters withdrew from the town due to the lack of reinforcements and ammunition. The loss of the town also resulted in the reopening of the government supply-route to the contested city of Daraa. The rebels continued to withdraw from other towns and decided not to face the Army’s advance along the highway. On 11 May, the rebels managed to cut a newly build desert road used as an Army supply route between central Syria and Aleppo’s airport. On 12 May, government forces took complete control of Khirbet Ghazaleh and secured the highway near the town.
By mid-May, due to the recent Army gains in retaking modest, but strategically important, locations, military analysts pointed out that the government will have a major advantage in any future peace talks with the opposition and the West. Pro-government, rebel and independent analysts credited the government advances to the major restructuring of their forces, which they filled with thousands of militia irregulars trained at least in part by Hezbollah and Iranian advisers in counter-insurgency operations. The government’s success was also credited to the shift by the Army from conducting counter-insurgency operations to holding on to strategic areas and not trying to recapture the whole country and crush the rebellion.
On 13 May, government forces captured the towns of Western Dumayna, Haidariyeh and Esh al-Warwar allowing them to block supplies to the rebels in al-Qusayr.
On 16 May, rebels also claimed they recaptured the town of Qaysa, Rif Damascus, after launching a unified counter-offensive. On 17 May, rebels captured four villages in Eastern Hama, including the Alawite town of Tulaysiah. The villages were abandoned by its residents days before the rebels arrived.
On 19 May, government forces captured the rebel-held town of Halfaya in Hama Province. The Syrian army also launched its offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusayr after taking control of surrounding villages and countryside. A military source reported the Army entered Qusayr, capturing the city center and the municipality building. One opposition activist denied this, but another confirmed it and stated the Army was in control of 60 percent of the city. An al Jazeera reporter in Beirut also said that it seemed that the Syrian army had control of most of the town. During the day’s fighting, Hezbollah commander Fadi al-Jazar was killed.
An anonymous opposition source told the Associated Press that the attack was launched from the east and the south and that Hezbollah fighters took control of the town hall in a few hours and that by the end of the day, rebels units were pushed out of most of Qusayr. He added that the fighting was now concentred in the northern part of the city. The attack appeared to surprise the rebels, who expected the army to push by the north on several rebels controlled villages before attacking the city. The turning point of the offensive was reached when Hezbollah fighters took control of the Al Tal area overlooking Qusayr. Several rebels fighters accused some commanders from fleeing the Al tal area at the last minute. Meanwhile SOHR reported that the Syrian army was at the area by the western neighborhood of al-Quseir in order to lay siege on the city itself.
On 24 May, rebels captured a military base near the town of Nairab.
By 29 May, government forces captured the al-Dabaa air base, north of al-Qusayr.
On 1 and 2 June, after heavy fighting, the Syrian Army recaptured three of the Alawite villages that had been previously captured by the rebels in Eastern Hama province, after rebel forces retreated from the area.
On 5 June, rebel forces withdrew from al-Qusayr, and the Syrian military and its allies took full control of the town. The following day, government forces captured the nearby village of Dabaa.
On 6 June, rebels attacked and temporarily captured the Quneitra border crossing which links the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights with the rest of Syria. However, the same day, government forces counter-attacked with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, recapturing the crossing.
On 7 June, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah captured two villages north of al-Qusayr: Salhiyeh and Masoudiyeh. The next day, they captured the village of Buwaydah, the last rebel-held village in the al-Qusayr region.
Between 7 and 14 June, Army troops, government militiamen, and reportedly Hezbollah fighters, launched operations in the province of Aleppo. Over a one-week period, government forces had advanced both in Aleppo city and the countryside around the city, pushing back the rebels. However, on 14 June, according to an opposition activist, the tide had started reversing, after rebels managed to halt an armoured reinforcement column from Aleppo city for two government-held Shiite villages northwest of the city.
As of 16 June, the rebels had been holding back the column for two days. Rebels claimed of being able to destroy one tank and kill 20 government soldiers northwest of the town of Maaret al-Arteek. Before the column was stopped, government forces had captured the high ground at Maaret al-Arteek, threatening rebel positions. Government forces did also manage to make some advances in the southern part of Aleppo province, capturing the village of Ain-Assan village. During the fighting in Aleppo city itself, on 13 June, government forces managed to temporarily advance into the rebel-held Sakhour district from two directions, but were soon repelled. Some described it as just simply another skirmish or possibly a probing attack and not a full assault.
On 10 June, Shia pro-government fighters from the village of Hatla, east of Deir al-Zour, attacked a nearby rebel position, killing four rebels. The next day, in retaliation for the attack, thousands of rebels attacked and captured the village, killing 60 residents, fighters and civilians, according to SOHR. 10 rebel fighters were killed during the attack.
At dawn on 13 June, rebels seized an Army position on the northern edge of the town of Morek, which is located on the strategic north-south highway, in fighting that killed six soldiers and two rebels. Later in the day, the Army shelled the base and sent reinforcements in an attempt to recapture the post.
On 14 June, the Al Nusra front captured a military barracks near Idlib city, after three days of fighting.
On 15 June, the Syrian Army captured the Damascus suburb of Ahmadiyeh near the city’s airport. Rebels said fighting began after rebels entered the town to use it as a position to launch mortars on the Damascus airport. They added that fighting was ongoing.
On 22 June, the Syrian Army captured the rebel stronghold town of Talkalakh. Four days later, the Army captured the town of Al-Qariatayn, also in Homs province.Continued fighting (July 2013–present)
On 28 June, rebel forces captured a major military checkpoint in the city of Daraa.
On 12 July FSA reported that one of its commanders, Kamal Hamami, had been killed at the hands of Islamists a day before. The rebels declared that the assassination, perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, was tantamount to a declaration of war.
On 17 July, FSA forces had reportedly taken control of most of the southern city of Nawa after seizing up to 40 army posts stationed in the city.
On 18 July, PYD forces secured control of the northern town of Ras al-Ain, after days of fighting with Al-Nusra Front.
On 22 July, FSA fighters had reportedly seized control of the Aleppo suburb of Khan Al-Assal, west of Aleppo city. The town was the last government stronghold in the western portion of Aleppo province, and the was also located on a route linking Aleppo with the rest of the province .
On 25 July, the Syrian army secured the town of al-Sukhnah, after expelling the Al-Nusra Front fighters.
On 27 July, after weeks of fighting and bombardment in Homs, the Syrian Army captured the historic Khalid Ibn al-Walid mosque, and two days later, captured the district of Khaldiyeh.
On 4 August, around 10 rebel brigades backed by heavy weaponry launched a large-scale offensive on the government stronghold of Latakia Province. Rebels had reportedly seized half a dozen villages in the mountainous area, taking advantage of the rugged terrain and had captured about 400 Alawite villagers and pro-government militiamen. Between August 4 and August 5, 20 rebels and 32 government soldiers and militiamen, had been killed in the clashes. Hundreds of Alawite villagers fled rebel held-villages to Latakia. By 5 August, rebel fighters advancing to 20 kilometers from the town of Qardaha, the home town of the Assad family.
On 6 August, rebels captured all of Menagh Military Airbase in northern Syria after a 10-month siege. The strategic airbase is located on the road between Aleppo city and the Turkish border.