Military intervention in Syria would “shake the entire Middle East,” President
Bashar Assad said on Saturday in his first interview with Western media since
the start of a popular uprising challenging his authoritarian rule.
Sunday, two rocket-propelled grenades struck a building of Assad’s Ba’ath Party
in Damascus, a sign, analysts say, that the eight-month revolt may be taking on
a more violent hue. The Syrian Free Army, comprising army defectors and based in
neighboring Turkey, claimed responsibility for the strike.
Turkey has contingency plans for Syria
Arab League gives Syria 3 days to stop bloodshedDeath toll rises in Syria despite deadline
a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the attack does
not necessarily mark a turn toward civil war, but it does reflect a shift in
“While peaceful protests have not made it into the
main squares of Damascus [the environs are a different story], violent attacks
now have,” Tabler said by e-mail. “Are we at civil war? No. But we are now at a
crossroads where two parallel forms of resistance are apparent: peaceful
protests and general strikes on one side, and violence on the other.
think the Arab League finally understands that Assad is not going to reform his
way out of this, which will open the door to other pressures,” he said. “The
question is to what degree will the Arabs lift cover on Syria, exposing the
Russian and Chinese vetos of UN Security Council measures.
And what do
the Turks do now? Will it just be sanctions, or something more? In any case,
it’s yet another last chance for Assad, and he’s failed the test.”
Meital, chairman of Ben-Gurion University’s Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy, said the rising tide of
army defections makes a peaceful resolution of the Syria crisis almost
“Today it is too late for the Arab League initiative to
defuse the tension there,” he said by phone from Boston. “It seems more likely
that Syria will go toward a scenario like the one we’ve seen in Yemen, where
units of the army are taking sides with the civilian protesters.
will lead Syria into a much more violent stage, such as attacks on military
“The question is when and how the regime collapses – not if. I
don’t see a realistic scenario in which this fighting is defused politically
between these adversaries,” Meital said.
From Israel’s perspective, he
added, “This instability in Egypt and continued rebellion in Syria make the
whole strategic situation extremely difficult.”
Sunday’s RPG attack in
Damascus was the first violent antigovernment attack in the capital since
protests began in March.
The attack came hours after Assad ignored an
Arab League deadline to halt repression of protesters, and after the bloc said
it had rebuffed Syria’s request to amend plans for a 500-strong monitoring
mission to the country.
“The conflict will continue and the pressure to
subjugate Syria will continue. Syria will not bow down,” Assad told Britain’s
newspaper in an interview published late on
Western military intervention, he said, would destabilize an
already unstable Middle East reeling from the fallout of popular uprisings in
the Arab Spring.
Assad attributed widespread reports of torture and abuse
by security forces as “mistakes,” and said he regrets the violence.
UN account, some 3,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the
“Each spilt drop of blood concerns me personally,” he said,
reiterating the official line that the bloodshed is the result of armed
Assad, speaking after his forces killed 17 more
protesters on Saturday, signaled no retreat from his iron fist
“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed
gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighboring countries, prevent
sabotage and enforce law and order,” he said in video footage on the Sunday
Assad said there would be elections in February or March
when Syrians would vote for a parliament to create a new constitution and that
would include provision for a presidential ballot.
Tabler – author of the
new book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with
– said Assad’s apparent calm could be misleading.
“Only someone who
is completely in denial would be so confident. Even if he thinks he will hold
on, these can’t be carefree days in the presidential palace,” he said.
a letter to Syria’s foreign minister, Arab League Secretary- General Nabil
Elaraby rejected Assad’s attempts to alter a plan for the fact-finding mission,
which would include military personnel and human rights experts.
Cairo-based League had given Damascus three days from a meeting on November 16
to abide by a deal to withdraw military forces from restive cities, start talks
between the government and opposition, and pave the way for an observer
Foreign Minister Walid al- Moualem told reporters in the Syrian
capital the proposed mission has “pervasive jurisdiction that reaches the level
of violating Syrian sovereignty,” and said he would send the Arab League a
letter with questions about its role.
“We will reply to the Arab League
secretary-general by responsibly presenting a number of queries,” Moualem
“The protocol is three pages that completely ignores the role of
the Syrian state. On one hand the Syrian state is responsible for the security
of this mission, and on the other hand they ignore even coordinating with
It was not immediately clear what action the Arab League would take
after the deadline passed unheeded by Damascus.
The pan-Arab body had
threatened sanctions for noncompliance, and it suspended Syria’s membership in a
surprise move last week.
Sunday’s RPG attack was the second hit on a
high-profile target in a week, underscoring a growing opposition challenge to
Assad from a nascent insurgency alongside mostly peaceful protests that have
persisted despite the intensifying crackdown.
The Syrian Free Army said
the attack was a response to the refusal of Damascus to release tens of
thousands of political prisoners and return troops to barracks.
once an ally of Assad, is also taking an increasingly tough attitude to
Turkish newspapers said on Saturday that Ankara had contingency
plans to create no-fly or buffer zones to protect civilians in Syria if the
“It’s almost certain that Bashar Assad’s regime is
going down; all the assessments are made based on this assumption. Foreign
Ministry sources say the sooner the regime goes down, the better for Turkey,”
one Turkish paper reported.
Meanwhile, dissident Col. Riad al-Asaad,
organizing defectors in Syria from his new base in southern Turkey, denied
government allegations that adjacent states were allowing arms smuggling into
“Not a single bullet” had been smuggled from abroad, he told Al
Weapons were brought by defectors, obtained in raids
on the regular army or bought from arms dealers inside Syria, he said. Asaad
said no foreign military intervention was needed other than providing a no-fly
zone and weapons supplies, and that more deserters would swell his Free Syrian
Army’s ranks if there were protected zones to which they could
“Soldiers and officers in the army are just waiting for the right
opportunity,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.