A group of military defectors called the Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on an air intelligence base in Harasta, an eastern suburb of Syria’s capital.
It says it has declared war on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and “is capable of striking them in any place and at any time we want.”
The group emerged amid an eight-month-long crackdown on protesters by the Syrian government, a grinding civil conflict that the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead.
The Free Syrian Army has reported recent operations in other cities, including Hama, Homs and Daraa, but the sophistication of Wednesday’s attack signals “a new era of the conflict,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Until now,” Tabler added, “most of the protests have been peaceful.”
[Updated October 20, 2011] In January, protesters in Tunisia forced out longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that triggered unrest across North Africa and the Middle East.
In some countries, demonstrators have forced their governments to enact reforms. In others, brute force has met the protests.
CNN.com’s interactive map highlights differences among the countries, offering an overview of the region and the major changes that have taken place since beginning of the year.