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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is Syria's Government on the Ropes?

Yesterday saw the rebels launch an attack against Damascus, while a suicide bomber killed several high ranking military and security officials, including Pres. Assad's brother-in-law. Now, it appears that Pres. Assad may have fled to the coast, while his wife is rumored to have fled to Russia. First, the Telegraph reports:
Opposition sources and a Western diplomat stated Mr Assad was in the coastal city of Latakia, directing the response to the assassination of his top lieutenants, according to Reuters.

Mr Assad, who has not made a public appearance since Wednesday's bombing, was said to be commanding the government operation but it was not clear whether Assad travelled to the Mediterranean Sea resort before or after the attack.

"Our information is that he is at his palace in Latakia and that he may have been there for days," said a senior opposition figure, who declined to be named.

David Cameron, the prime minister called on Mr Assad to give up power to avert more chaos and bloodshed. Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: "I have a very clear message for President Assad. It is time for him to go.

"It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn't transition it's quite clear there's going to be civil war."

Gen Daoud Rajha, the defence minister, Gen Hassan Turkmani, assistant to the vice-president and head of the crisis cell, and Assef Shawkat, the husband of Mr Assad's sister have been confirmed as casualties of the attack and a number of other senior leaders were injured.

Major Gen Robert Mood, head of the UN monitoring mission, warned that the violence was spiralling, as President Assad appeared to have gone to ground.

Security forces loyal to President Assad pounded rebel hideouts in Damascus on Thursday in retaliatory attacks for the blast that killed three top anti-insurgency leaders.

Hundreds fled Damascus flashpoint districts amid a surge of fighting following a bomb attack which killed three security chiefs, as residents reported shops closed and food shortages.

The troops used helicopters and heavy artillery against the rebels, while snipers took up positions on rooftops on the outskirts of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. "Explosions are heard throughout the capital," it said.
The Daily Mail reports:
Syria's embattled president and his British-born wife have fled the capital Damascus after rebels killed three of his top security chiefs in a devastating bomb attack, it was claimed today.

Bashar al-Assad is believed to be in the coastal city of Latakia, directing a response to yesterday's attack which killed his brother-in-law and two other members of his inner circle.

Rumours that his wife Asma, who grew up in London, has fled to Russia swirled around Damascus, where pro-government forces today fought back against an all-out rebel offensive.

There were signs today that the 16-month uprising had reached a potentially pivotal stage, with soldiers apparently defecting en masse.

But anti-regime activists said that government forces had begun shelling neighbourhoods in and around the capital in response to the suicide bomb attack.

More than 200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in violence across the country yesterday, including 38 in Damascus, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
We may see a repeat of Iraq and Libya, where large stores of chemical weapons have gone missing. From the Daily Mail article cited above:
Leon Panetta, US defence secretary, warned the Assad regime that it would be responsible for anything that happened to the country's chemical weapons.

He said: ‘What we may be about to witness is the collapse of a heavily militarised Middle Eastern state with a huge stock of conventional and chemical weapons.’
This AFP article similarly contains a warning from King Abdullah II of Jordan:
The king of Jordan warned Wednesday that his northern neighbor Syria was on the brink of all-out civil war and that in a worst-case scenario, chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
I suspect that we are past the point of no-return unless Syria gets a substantial amount of aid (including troops) from Russia or some other ally. And, as has happened too often in the past two decades, the collapse will of the Syrian regime will produce true civil war as tribes, religious, and ethnic groups all turn on each other. It may be years before stability returns to the country.

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