About half of Syrian territory is no longer under control of the regime of President Bashar Assad, the commander of the Free Syria Army said Wednesday according to Al Arabiya. Riyadh Al-Asaad, the effective commander of the army of Syrian defectors and rebel activists, said that the Free Syria Army could not completely control any specific zone, fearing the destructive response of the Syrian regime.Asaad's bold proclamation conflicted with reports earlier this week that Syrian forces had driven rebels out of areas in and around the capital Damascus.The Syrian Revolution General Commission, the centralized organization of opposition groups, said that at least 40 people were gunned down by Assad's forces on Wednesday, after 45 people were killed on Tuesday when the Syrian army battled rebels in-and-around Damascus.Of the 40 killed on Wednesday, 23 died in the region surrounding the capital in gun battles and bombings by the Syrian army, Al Jazeera reported.At least 11 died in Homs, four in the southern city of Deraa, and one in the northern cities of Hama and Idlib, according to the report.Still, Syrian defectors remained optimistic despite their setbacks.
In interviews with Reuters this past week over shaky phone and Internet connections from covert frontline bases, the mood among rebel forces sounded upbeat, despite what they called a "tactical retreat" from the threshold of Damascus and a serious pounding by Assad's artillery against fighters in the north."We need to make our own Benghazi," one FSA officer, a former lieutenant-colonel in Assad's army who uses the cover name Abu Thaer, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location, referring to the Libyan rebel capital during the ultimately successful uprising there."If there were a buffer- or no-fly-zone, there would be a string of army defections," he said. "The picture would change 180 degrees."For some observers, the FSA's encroachment on the capital has given it new credibility."It's getting stronger and becoming a stronger part of the opposition and a real force on the ground," said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. "That doesn't mean it can overturn the state, but it certainly is challenging it."Reuters contributed to this report