And yet the mercs aren't inspired by the peace talks to change the outcome?Divisions in rebel ranks and more committed loyalist fighters are helping the Syrian regime notch up military victories that would give it the upper hand at peace talks, analysts and rebels say.The army's capture this week of the strategic town of Qara, north of Damascus, followed three days of fighting against Al-Nusra Front jihadists.
It comes after a series of government advances in Damascus province and southwest of Aleppo, in northern Syria.
Rebels 'totally demoralised' by US backtracking
International developments have also played a role in the rebels' losses.
A Syrian expert living in Damascus said "the United States turnaround ... totally demoralised the rebels."
Washington late this summer backtracked on threats to strike regime targets in Syria after striking a deal with Russia that would see Damascus hand over its massive chemical arsenal.
The rebels "had hoped such strikes would destroy the regime's military infrastructure and allow them to enter Damascus", said the expert.
Thomas Pierret, a Syria expert at Edinburgh University, said: "It is clear the current loyalist surge is linked to the prospect of Geneva II", a slated peace conference that would bring rebels and the regime to the negotiating table.
Being "Syrian rebels"... Key word Syrians, you would think the push would be on?(facetious)
Instead we are getting the loyalist surge? Perhaps dedicated loyalists have the largest numbers?
"If the (opposition) National Coalition goes to the talks, it will be in a position of weakness, militarily and diplomatically," said Pierret, adding that the United States has in recent weeks downscaled its assistance to the opposition.
"In any case, Assad's departure is out of the question right now, because neither the Russians nor the Americans want it," he added.
Also this piece I had saved from earlier in the week- Regarding Geneva II
Russia steps up push for Syria peace talks
- Russia hosted Syrian and Iranian delegations for separate rounds of talks on Monday in a renewed diplomatic push for a Syrian peace conference in which Moscow says Tehran must play a role.
President Vladimir Putin, who has stepped up his personal involvement on the Syrian issue, also called Iran's president to discuss the conflict as well as efforts to end the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.
Moscow wants to show it still has weight in the Middle East and has been emboldened by its success in helping to broker a deal under which Syria will destroy its chemical weapons, but Washington is wary of letting Iran join any peace conference.
"We regard Iran as a very important partner in all Middle Eastern affairs," Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov saying at the start of talks with Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
The meeting "will give us an opportunity to jointly look at how developments in and around Syria unfold," Bogdanov said.
In further evidence of Russia's diplomatic offensive, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Syrian opposition sources both confirmed that Bogdanov had recently held talks in Istanbul with leaders of the opposition National Coalition.
Russia, which strongly backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the United States announced back in May they would try to bring Syria's government and opposition together in such a conference, but a date has so far proved elusive.
Lavrov said it could happen before the end of the year.
*Geneva peace talks on Syria set for December 12*
"(U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry and I promised to do all we can to make that happen," Lavrov told Russia's official gazette, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, on Monday, referring to a telephone conversation the two men had on Sunday.
But Lavrov added that the timing of the conference would "depend on how well our Western partners do their homework of persuading the opposition to reject preconditions".