— -- Last week, 700 people died in two days in Syria, in what has been described as the deadliest 48-hour period in the country since its conflict began more than four years ago. And 1,700 are reported to have died in the last seven days, in one of the worst weeks on record.
As the global spotlight shifted to Gaza, the past month has been particularly brutal in Syria. Why? Experts cite a bloody fight between Assad forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for control of the large Shaar gas field, east of Homs; an increased regime offensive in Aleppo; and clashes between ISIS, which is rapidly consolidating its territory in the east, and rebel factions like Jabhat al-Nusra.
Joshua Landis, Editor of Syria Comment and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma:
Deaths have increased because fighting has increased. ISIS is attacking the regime now and they're also trying to consolidate, and they're attacking the other militias. They are on a real tear. The whole of Deir Ezzor province saw lots of fighting this month, and there's been a lot of fighting in the Kurdish areas as well.
There's also been a lot of fighting among the more moderate militias, because everyone is jockeying for territory – they want to get their own states. Nusra announced more than a week ago that it was establishing an emirate. And once you do that, you need to fight to gain exclusive authority in your territory. The ISIS declaration of a caliphate caused a domino effect, and there's a big scramble for northern Syria, which means militias have gone to war with each other.
Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA):
It seems that ISIS's advance into Iraq and also its swing back into Syria has ignited other groups to act out on their own. The various Islamic groups are fighting to make gains.
The siege of Aleppo factors in because it has become a main area of power and influence for all sides, and that has catapulted the issue of Aleppo's future front and center. The death toll is rising rapidly because the nature of the battles is producing higher casualty rates – they're occurring in urban areas, and during the holy month of Ramadan. For me, an uptick of violence during Ramadan is tied to religious discourse about the significance of [the idea of being martyred during] the holy month.
Under the concept of strategic distraction – [with the world watching] events that are occurring in Gaza and even in the Ukraine – this might be an opportune time [for all sides] to try to make advances, with Syria off the front page.