Andrew Bowen, Middle East scholar at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University:
Last week you had two heavy days of fighting over the oil and gas facility, and that caused a large loss of life both for the Assad regime and ISIS fighters.
As this conflict becomes more multi-faceted – ISIS versus different groups, and now inner fighting within those groups – the fighting naturally leads to a higher death toll. When you have opposition groups fighting within themselves, civilians become even more vulnerable. They're not only fleeing fighting between the regime and jihadist groups, they're now stuck in areas where they could be encountering violence.
So as this conflict becomes more layered, civilians have increasingly limited prospects between leaving the country or being caught in the crossfire. These are the same areas where months ago, they were less vulnerable. In areas that used to be "held" by the opposition, civilians were relatively more secure. And now a lot of those areas are being more contested.
There's a strategy going on here. Assad is responding to this infighting by allowing it – it's his interest to allow ISIS to gain ground against the more moderate militias and fighters. It puts him in a stronger position.
This article originally appeared on Syria Deeply.