On Saturday and Sunday, the Free Syrian Army launched attacks on government facilities and personnel in Aleppo, with fighting raging in several districts of the country’s largest city. Fighting raged near a large government intelligence facility. If the rebels can take Aleppo, they would benefit from Turkish aid and trade, and could hope to build it up into a stronghold. They also have asserted control over two checkpoints on the border with Iraq that could help them supply the north. They have several checkpoints with Turkey, as well.
In a further sign of military demoralization, Three more brigadier generals (a lower rank of general in Syria) defected to Turkey this weekend, joining two dozen others who had left before.
Agence France Presse reports that the Free Syrian Army has taken the second of three major border crossings from Iraq to Syria, at al-Ya`ribiya/ Qa’im. The Iraqi authorities in Ninevah Province promptly closed the crossing from their side except for Iraqi refugees who want to return home from Syria. (Several hundred thousand Iraqi refugees had been in Syria, fleeing sectarian and political violence at home).
Thousands of Iraqis are now fleeing Syria. I’ve seen it alleged on twitter that Iraqi Shiites in the Sitt Zainab district of Damascus have been threatened by Sunni rebels. Sunni clerics and activists have for some years complained of missionary work by Iraqi Shiite refugees in Syria, aimed at converting local populations to orthodox Twelver Shiism from Sunnism or the Alawite folk religion. I don’t know whether the allegation has any truth to it, but it is widely believed by Sunnis and may be one reason the more hard line Sunni rebels are eager to see the Iraqi Shiites leave. The rebels may also suspect the Iraqi Shiites of favoring the Alawite Shiite elite in the Baath Party, though I think any such fear must be overblown.
If the FSA can take the third crossing from Iraq, at Walid, they can control truck traffic into Syria from Iraq, starving the regime. The border is long and porous, but big trucks need metalled roads, which are few and go through the checkpoints. Some 70% of goods coming into Syria were coming from Iraq, because Europe cut off trade with the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad. The rebels are increasingly in a position to block that trade or direct it to their strongholds.