With some 80,000 dead so far in the Syrian civil war, recent reports in the international and local Israeli press point to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gaining an upper hand in the conflict.
According to a report in The Washington Post on Sunday, Assad has been receiving massive material and financial support from Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, and it is with this support that the Syrian dictator has been able to turn around his fortunes in the battle for control over the fracturing nation.
In Israel, Channel 2 TV's Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya'ari reported last week that it was now clear that the Assad regime was making significant headway in ground battles against opposition forces, especially in the Quseir region. Assad's recent victories are largely due to Hezbollah's influence on the ground, The Washington Post reported. The Post added that the advances have been made in strategically important locations and point to a new level of direction and energy previously unseen in the army’s performance. Analysts told the Post that there is little doubt that the pendulum is now swinging in favor of Assad, potentially putting him in a strong position to set terms if the negotiations with the opposition, that the Obama administration and Russia last week agreed to sponsor, eventually take place.
An activist group says Syrian troops have taken full control of a town near a highway linking the capital Damascus with the Jordanian border, a new advance in its campaign to drive rebels from the country’s south.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Monday that government forces retook all off Khirbet Ghazaleh on Sunday, after days of heavy fighting. He says rebel fighters withdrew.
Syrian state TV had reported late last week that troops secured the highway between Damascus and the southern town of Daraa, near the Jordanian border. Abdul-Rahman says the highway only reopened Sunday, after troops took full control of the area.
The capture of Khirbet Ghazaleh is one of several recent battlefield gains by Assad's regime.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced on Sunday that based on data compiled from credible sources in Syria, some 80,000 people have been killed in the civil conflict that has raged in Syria since March 2011. At least 34,473 of those people were civilians, of which 4,788 were children and 3,049 were women. Tens of thousands more are being held in Syrian prisons, the report added.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday that the Syrian president's regime has direct links with the "old Marxist terrorist organization" that carried out the terrorist attack in the border town of Reyhanli, which killed 46 people.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Davutoglu said, "It is time for the international community to act together against this regime."
The Turkish foreign minister's comments came as Turkey said it had arrested nine Turkish suspects over the bombings.
Turkey will harden its stance against nations that support Assad and his allies in Syria if the Damascus regime is discovered to have been involved in the attacks, Davutoglu said. His warning was likely directed against Russia and Iran, widely seen as Assad's staunchest allies.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "We will not lose our calm heads, we will not depart common sense, and we will not fall into the trap they're trying to push us into."
He added: "Whoever targets Turkey will sooner or later pay the price."
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi shot back unprecedentedly at Erdogan, calling on him to quit and nicknaming him "the head of terrorist organization al-Qaida's military branch." Holding Turkey responsible for the bloodshed in Syria, Zoabi said Damascus had no hand in Saturday's bombings.
"Syria did not and would never commit such an act because our values don't allow us to. It is not anyone's right to hurl unfounded accusations," he said to reporters in Damascus. "The leadership and the people of Syria mourn the martyrs who were killed in the murderous terrorist attack in southern Turkey."
"We should be asking the assassin Erdogan what the source of this attack was," the Syrian information minister said. "Syria has never and would never carry out an attack of this kind because our values as a nation do not allow us to take part in terrorism. Unfortunately, Turkey is responsible for the whole Syrian crisis, and Erdogan and members of his party are also responsible for murderous operations."
Turkey said it had discovered signs of chemical weapons use on Syrian refugees who were being treated in Turkish hospitals. Some 300,000 Syrian refugees currently reside in Turkey.
Also on Sunday, four U.N. observers who were abducted a week ago by the Al-Yarmuk brigades -- Syrian rebels affiliated with al-Qaida -- were released according to an Al-Jazeera report.