At least 15 people killed as attacks near an Alawite-populated district

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A bomb attack on Monday in the western “Mezzeh 86” district of Damascus killed 11 people and wounded dozens more, Syrian state media reported.

Seif al-Sham, an Islamist rebel unit, claimed responsibility for that attack, which targeted what it described as a meeting point for the army and police, as well as the shabbiha militia loyal to Assad.

Damascus has several hilltop enclaves mostly inhabited by members of the Alawite minority, a sect of Shi’ite Islam that has dominated Syria, which has a Sunni Muslim majority, since the 1960s.

“After bomb attacks and constant ground aerial bombardment on Sunni districts, it seems Alawite areas are now considered fair game,” Nawara al-Soueid, an opposition activist in the capital, said.

Last month several bombs exploded during the Muslim Eid holiday near mosques in Sunni districts and the Damascus suburbs, killing or injuring dozens of people, activists said.

Bowled over by an increasingly daring rebellion, al-Assad’s regime is reducing its territorial ambitions to focus on Damascus, central Syria and Alawite bastions, as it digs in for a long war, analysts said.

As rebel fighters make significant gains, especially in Syria’s northwest, the regime’s goal is to entrench in key positions, such as the country’s capital, to fight off further advances and hold out for an opportune time to negotiate, experts said.

“(The regime) is aware that it will never regain control of all the territory, it even knows that it will have to abandon Aleppo,” the northern commercial hub where fighting has raged since mid-July, said Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at the University of Edinburgh’s Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department.

“I think the goal of the Assad clan is to hole up in Damascus and Homs,” Pierret said.

Nearly 20 months after the launch of the uprising against Assad and amid increasing violence, the regime has seen the territory it controls shrink away.

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