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Syria's stalemated conflict picks up speed again

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Recent reports show rebel groups gaining ground against Assad’s regime in parts of the country, with a diplomat in Damascus telling Reuters that "there is a sense that the flames are licking at the door.”

The steady capture of military installations and arsenals is sapping the morale of Assad's forces and also ensuring a modest supply of new weapons to relatively ill-equipped rebels whose calls for a no-fly zone – which proved crucial in the Libyan uprising – have been ignored.

Although they have yet to seize control of a single city, or translate their dominance in swathes of rural Syria into "liberated" territory free of air and artillery strikes, rebels say that their increasing prowess on the battlefield and growing armories have finally allowed them to take the initiative.

"The difference is that we've gone from being on the defensive to thinking and acting on the offensive. We actually have the ability to work offensively now, since we have seized enough weapons," said a fighter with Islamist battalions in Damascus province, who used the nom de guerre of Abu al-Yaman.

Today’s bombings, which shattered windows in nearby buildings and scattered debris through the street, have raised concerns of “a rising Islamic militant element among the forces seeking to topple Assad,” reports the AP.

Analysts say most of those fighting Assad's regime are ordinary Syrians and soldiers who have defected, disenchanted with the authoritarian government. But increasingly, foreign fighters and those adhering to an extremist Islamist ideology are turning up on the front lines. The rebels try to play down the Islamists' influence for fear of alienating Western support.

Numerous car bombs and attacks have taken place in downtown, particularly since last December, reports the AP. These attacks have largely focused on regime targets, including “state security institutions and troops, as well as areas with homes of wealthy Syrians, army officers, security officials and other members of the regime.”

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