In the ongoing battles around Damascus it seems more and more clear to me that the Syrian Government is consolidating its position in its heartlands in anticipation of an armistice negotiated by the Russians, an armistice that may last for years as the government and the rebels (now mostly jihadis) gather their strength for a renewal of the conflict toward a final result that will result in annihilation of one side. The East Gouta pocket is being sliced up apace by the SAA. The western part of the pocket is a built up urban area while the eastern area is farmland and villages. The SAA chose to go into Gouta from the east and are now evacuating civilians from the remaining jihadi held urban areas in the west of the pocket. 10,000 are reported to have been evacuated thus far. They are assisted in this by the Russian military police. The evacuees are leaving by moving east through the farmland rather than west through metropolitan Damascus. There have been numerous demonstrations in favor of the government in the rebel/jihadi held areas of Gouta. This has been little reported in Western media.
The continuing US policy of regime change in Syria leaves little possibility that the government can recover Syria east and north of the Euphrates River. That land is under US government "protection." How the movement of (US) Kurds to Afrin to fight will affect that is unpredictable.
As SST forecast just after the fall of Aleppo City to the government, Idlib Province has become a cancerous wound in the side of the possibility of a fully re-united Syria. The Turks are taking advantage of their burgeoning relationship with Russia to eradicate Kurdish control of Afrin district in Aleppo Province. The Turks are making steady progress in this effort. The evolving tie to Russia is evident in the S-400 SAM deal and Russia seems complicit in the "Olive Branch" campaign. There are clearly limits to Russian protection of the SAG. The Turks have now established "observation posts" of company size all along the eastern border of Idlib Province. These are positioned to impede a renewed advance of R+6 into Idlib Province once SAA and friends are finished in the Damascus area. The latest of these posts is now being placed just NW of Aleppo so as to prevent an advance by the government to the west into northern Aleppo Province. IMO what we are seeing is a slow motion annexation of NW Syria by Turkey. Tayyip Erdogan seems to want to be remembered as Fatih Sultan Tayyip. Would the SAG be strong enough to fight Turkey in Idlib? That is an open question.
The Russian MoD says that the US is planning cruise missile attacks on Syria in response to a putative gas attack in the Gouta area. This is somewhat amusing given the recent capture of a jihadi chlorine gas factory in East Gouts, but, we will see. pl