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Syria Snap Analysis: New Patterns in a Bloodier Conflict

Tracer fire, or perhaps even rockets, reportedly fired from regime aircraft over Darayya Wendesday night.

On Wednesday, 184 people were killed by regime forces, according to activists. The deaths were spread across nearly every region of the country and pointed to a new practice deployed in recent days --- the execution of civilians in areas where insurgents have been active. The Local Coordination Committees report:

100 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its suburbs, including 46 executed in Qaboun, 25 executed in Kafar Souseh, and 7 executed in Nahr Aisha; 25 martyrs were reported in Idlib; 22 in Homs; 17 in Daraa; 11 in Aleppo; 4 in Hama; 3 in Deir Ezzor; 1 in Hasakeh; and 1 in Lattakia.

Two eyewitness reports, both covered by Scott Lucas early this morning (see Live Coverage), describe this pattern of executions in detail. Sometimes the Free Syrian Army launches an attack, sometimes they are attacked and they withdraw, and sometimes they move into an area to react to regime forces moving into that area. But once the insurgent forces leave, arrests are made, and hours later bodies are found.

Most of these casualties are civilians. With 184 dead on Wednesday, 230 on Tuesday, and 150 killed on Monday, the three-day death toll stands at 564, according to the Local Coordinating Committees --- a strikingly high number for a period that lacked pitched battles or headline episodes.

The clashes of recent days have been far more widespread, but smaller in scale. The Free Syrian Army is conducting more guerrilla-style warfare, individual attacks designed to remove the regime's initiative, cramp its supply lines, soften its hardened locations, and damped its morale. The response to those attacks has been disproportionate, indiscriminate, and ruthless, with the civilians paying the highest toll.

Underlying all of this violence, however, is the pattern of increased insurgent activity in every region. The battle lines have not shifted much this week, at least not in Aleppo, Idlib, or Damascus, but the Free Syrian Army has held its ground in many areas, has gained territory in Deir Ez Zor, and is beginning to show the first signs of a potential threat to the military in Daraa Province. The regime's brutal response to this growing threat is, perhaps, the most desperate strategy that we have seen yet, perhaps evidence that the regime is nervous that it is losing momentum.

For now, the cores of several key cities (Damascus, Daraa, Hama) remain firmly within the fist of the Assad regime. As long as Aleppo remains a stalemate, this is unlikely to change soon.

The wild card, however, is Deir Ez Zor. If the city, and the few around it, fall to the Free Syrian Army, the military calculus in Aleppo, and Idlib, and maybe even Homs, starts to change significantly.

In a few more hours we'll see how the day plays out.

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