The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (2nd R) shakes hands with Syrian Ambassador to the UN and head of the government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari (3rd L) before meeting at Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March. 24, 2017. The UN-mediated latest round of intra-Syrian peace talks kicked off in Geneva. (Xinhua/Xu Jinquan)
DAMASCUS, March 24 (Xinhua) -- It seems like the one who wins the upper hand in the battles on ground gets to dictate his conditions for a political settlement, and that's what is basically happening in Syria.
Last Sunday, and just days ahead of the resumption of the Syria talks in Geneva, several rebel groups, including jihadists with the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, unleashed a massive offensive on government-controlled areas in the east of the capital Damascus, rattling the residents there with many suicide bombings in the hope of breaking through the fortifications of the Syrian army.
Mortar shells and explosive bullets rained down the capital, particularly the eastern neighborhoods that are close to the rebel-held areas on the eastern outskirts of the city, from which the rebels unleashed their attacks.
The Syrian forces, taken by surprise, scrambled to stand in the face of the attacks as the rebels succeeded to advance and take areas on the frontline between the government-controlled areas and the rebel-held ones.
Airstrikes and artillery shelling were relentless against rebel positions to thwart their largest attack against the capital in more than two years.
On Sunday, the army said it completely foiled the attack, but the rebels later announced the second wave of the attack, which started on Monday morning.
The rebel attack is aimed to open a road between rebel-held areas of Jobar, Qaboun and Barzeh, which would thwart the recent government offensive that has cut the road between those areas to make rebels weaker and the surroundings of the capital safer.
On Friday, airstrikes were still pounding rebel positions in the the countryside of Eastern Ghouta, mainly the neighborhood of Jobar, the main launching pad of the attacks on Damascus.
Not only in Damascus, the rebels from the Nusra Front and likeminded groups also unleashed a major offensive against the government positions two days ago in the central city of Hama, hoping to reach the city from its countryside.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels were just four kilometers from Hama, while government officials said they were seven kilometers from the city.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on ground, said the rebels were making progress against the government forces in Hama after reinforcements were brought in.
It said the northeastern countryside of Hama is witnessing intense battles, with jihadi groups targeting government forces' positions in several areas amid airstrikes by the Syrian air forces against the rebel positions in areas they captured in northern Hama countryside.
It added that the Syrian forces also brought in supporting forces and deployed them near the military airport of Hama to prevent jihadi groups from approaching.
Observers believe the two offensives on Damascus and Hama have more political aims than territorial ones, particularly at the time when the Geneva talks is taking place.
Ahmad Ashqar, a political analyst and journalist, said the rebels who are fighting on both fronts are backed by Turkey, which aims to activate its allies on ground at this particular time to gain a political role for the rebels it's backing in the future of Syria.
The move came after the United States has apparently backed the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and has clearly chosen the group to be the one representing the U.S. interests in Syria.
The United States has recently deployed new ground forces to help Kurdish groups in their push toward Syria's northern city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (IS) group.
The attacks also coincided with the recent advance of the Syrian army in several areas. Analysts say these attacks aim to keep the Syrian forces preoccupied with defense in Hama and Damascus rather than offense against Turkey and Gulf-backed rebels elsewhere.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the real aim of the attacks in Hama and Damascus is to affect Geneva talks and foil Astana talks as well as the results that have been reached, adding that the information available indicate that Turkish, Saudi and Qatari intelligence are involved in these events.
In Geneva, the Syrian government delegation is scheduled to meet with the UN envoy and mediator Staffan de Mistura later on Friday, marking the beginning of the fresh round of Geneva talks, which have so far failed to achieve any breakthrough in resolving the Syrian war politically.