Barak: Assad's 'fate has been sealed'

Hama siege goes on; EU extends sanctions on Syria, warns of more; Syrian leader: Golan will return to Damascus' control.

By OREN KESSLER
August 1, 2011 17:31
4 minute read.
Barak

Barak 58 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Bashar Assad's "fate is sealed," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday, as the European Union ramped up sanctions against key members of the Syrian president’s regime.

The beefed-up sanctions come as the Assad regime continued its siege of the city of Hama that has left at least 84 people dead.

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“He can hold out a few more weeks, just on inertia, but I don’t think he’ll be able to last for long,” Barak told members of his Independence Party Knesset faction.

The defense minister added, however, that Assad’s ouster would not necessarily be a positive development for Israel.

“None of us knows who might replace him, but we’re monitoring all the implications of what’s happening there,” he said, according to Army Radio.

“Assad will fight until the last Syrian,” said Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an expert at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin- Sadat Center and author of the 2006 book Asad in Search of Legitimacy: Messages and Rhetoric in the Syrian Press under Hafiz and Bashar.

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“Sanctions won’t even touch the least hair on his head. Right now he’s struggling for his survival – for himself as a human being, for his family, his clan and his sect. The fight is to the death, to the last breath,” Kedar said.

Syrian tanks shelled Hama for the second day on Monday, killing at least four civilians, residents said. The killings in Hama brought to 84 the number of civilians reported killed in a tank-backed crackdown on the central city, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighborhoods and killing many thousands of people.

Meanwhile, European Union diplomats extended sanctions against Damascus, while the beleaguered president lashed out at “foreign conspirators” and assured his armed forces that the Golan Heights would return to Syrian sovereignty.

In an address to the military, Assad said the country was facing a foreign conspiracy to sow sectarian strife designed to “tear Syria into small statelets that compete to satisfy those who worked to slice them up.

“Syria’s belief in just and comprehensive peace doesn’t mean relinquishing a speck of soil or a drop of water, affirming that the Syrian Arab Golan will remain Arab and Syrian and will return to the homeland Syria,” Assad said, according to the state-run SANA news agency.

“We will remain free in our national decision-making and sovereign in our international relations and our resistant course to achieve just and comprehensive peace according to international legitimacy resolutions that stipulate for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Arab lands up to the June 4, 1967, line... those who bet on other than that are delusional.”

Security forces, dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, had besieged Hama, a mainly Sunni city of 700,000, for nearly a month before Sunday’s crackdown on the eve of Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast during daylight hours. Many people flock to mosque prayers at night, occasions that activists may use to launch more frequent protests.

The new sanctions – levying new asset freezes and travel bans on five more regime figures – were drawn up by the 27 EU governments last week after the bloc accused Syria of Sunday’s indiscriminate “massacre” of civilians.

In announcing the extension of the sanctions to five more individuals connected to the violence, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned there could be further steps “should the Syrian leadership persist in its current path.”

Earlier on Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague ruled out military action against the Assad regime.

“We do want to see additional sanctions,” he told the BBC.

“We want to see stronger international pressure all round. Of course, to be effective, that can’t just be pressure from Western nations, that includes [pressure] from Arab nations, it includes [pressure] from Turkey.”

Seeking military action against Syria, even with UN authority, was “not a remote possibility,” he said.

Russia and China have previously opposed any condemnation of Syria in the Security Council, where they hold veto powers.

“Moscow is seriously concerned by information about numerous casualties,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.

“The use of force against civilians and representatives of state structures is unacceptable and must cease.”

Turkey felt “great disappointment and sadness” over Sunday’s death toll, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, blaming the use of tanks and heavy weapons for the high number of casualties.

“Such a start to Ramadan for Syrians is not acceptable. We condemn the attack,” Davutoglu said, adding that Turkey had long urged Syrian officials to carry out promised reforms.

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