A chemical attack on the Jobar front, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, doesn't look like anything much at first. It's not spectacular. Above all, it's not detectable. And that's the aim: by the time the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army who have penetrated furthest into Damascus understand that they've been exposed to chemical products by government forces, it's too late. No matter which type of gas is used, it has already produced its effects, only a few hundred meters from residential areas of the Syrian capital.
Entries in Tahrir al-Sham (2)
One of Goran Tomasevic's photos of the fighting at the Ain Tarma checkpoint, 30 January 2013
Rebel fighters in Damascus are disciplined, skilled and brave.
In a month on the frontline, I saw them defend a swathe of suburbs in the Syrian capital, mount complex mass attacks, manage logistics, treat their wounded --- and die before my eyes.
But as constant, punishingly accurate, mortar, tank and sniper fire attested, President Bashar al-Assad's soldiers on the other side, often just a room or a grenade toss away, are also well-drilled, courageous --- and much better armed.
So while the troops were unable to dislodge brigades of the Free Syrian Army from devastated and depopulated neighborhoods just east of the city centre --- and indeed made little effort to do so --- there seems little immediate prospect of the rebels overrunning Assad's stronghold. The result is bloody stalemate.