Less than a week after a rare speech by President Bashar al Assad that was largely designed to lift the spirits of his supporters, the loss of a key airbase and a lopsided prisoner exchange appeared to deflate Assad’s base.
The Syrian government released 2,130 opposition prisoners for 48 Iranian hostages who were abducted by rebels five months ago in Damascus. Moaz Al Khatib, the president of the Syrian Coalition, the opposition’s largest opposition group, said in an interview with Al Arabiya that the Assad regime refused to negotiate on exchanging 200 Alawite officers held by the rebels and focused only on the Iranians.
Pro-regime Facebook pages lit up with criticism of the Syrian government, first blasting official media for failing to mention the exchange and then questioning why Iranians were being released rather than Syrian soldiers and officers.
“How can I, a government supporter, believe that I’m of any value to the government when it considers that Iranian hostages are more important than Syrian soldiers?” wrote one commentator.
Before the bitterness over the prisoner swap had abated, the Assad regime suffered a tactical blow in the north. It reportedly lost control of its largest helicopter airbase in Taftanaz, Idlib, a base that has been used to launch aerial raids in Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Pro-Assad media outlets downplayed the setback, but online even Assad supporters grew skeptical. One commentator named “Assadi (woman) to the Core” questioned the regime’s handling of the incident.
Ultimately, the fact that the airbase did fall into rebels hands means it can no longer be used by the Syrian government. Media activists attached to rebel groups uploaded hours of footage from the airbase; foreign reporters soon confirmed the story with their own dispatches from Taftanaz.
Eliot Higgins, author of the popular Brown Moses blog, tracks weapons and military developments in Syria. He went through long clips from the airbase and picked out key scenes showing the battle for Taftanaz airport, along with the planes and bombs abandoned by the regime in the facility. Rebels also recovered so-called barrel bombs, crude explosive devices that have inflicted death and destruction on Syrians for months.
Finally, on a lighter note, a bizarre video of government soldiers went viral this week. In the clip below, soldiers are apparently enjoying some down time, perhaps in a seized house, dressing up in women’s underwear and clothes and prancing around with their fellow fighters.