Syria at tipping point after bombing

Friday, July 20, 2012
By Weedah Hamzah, dpa

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The attack on a national security building in Damascus was a powerful blow to both the heart of the Syrian capital as well as the inner circle of President Bashar al-Assad, with some analysts counting down to the end of the regime.

According to state media, three key regime insiders were dead — defense minister Daoud Rajha, his deputy and al-Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar was among several top officials seriously wounded in the bombing, according to opposition activists.

Whebe Katisha, a Lebanese military analyst, said: “When battles reach Damascus and come close to where al-Assad is living, this means that the capital has fallen militarily.”

Ahmed Mossalli, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told dpa: “We can now say the countdown to the regime's downfall has started.

“How many days, how many months? We do not know. Still, we have reached a stage when some people inside al-Assad's circle are turning against him.”

The bombing, for which the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsibility, was carried out while senior military and security officials were meeting inside the building in the district of Rawda, according to state television.

“We expect this operation to plunge the regime into real confusion, while boosting the morale of the revolutionaries,” FSA founder Riad al-Asaad told dpa by phone.

The blast took place as fierce clashes between the army and rebel fighters entered their fourth consecutive day in Damascus.

Mossalli, the political science professor, said, “The clashes mean that the regime is now cracking from the inside. This might lead soon to a coup or at least a preparation for it.”

He added: “The blast has hit the pillars of the Syrian regime.”

Rebel fighters had already announced Tuesday that the “greater battle” for Damascus had begun, and that they were using new tactics by launching simultaneous attacks in the capital.

According to opposition activists, a security guard was behind the attack on the National Security Headquarters, and they claimed that he planted the bomb before the meeting.

“The Syrian forces may quell the rebels in some districts in Damascus, but they cannot stop such deadly attacks,” said Hisham Jaber, a Lebanese former general.

Some analysts say that the landscape of the conflict is changing, with the rebels making advances on the ground not only because of the sophisticated weapons they have received from outside the country, but also because of the support they are getting from Sunni Muslim personnel within al-Assad's army.

“Many Sunni Muslim officers, who have not defected, are fed up with the regime and the massacres it has committed. Therefore, they have passed information and offered secret help to the rebels. This was clear in today's blast,” said Mossalli.

The blast has put the spotlight on not only the regime's apparent vulnerability, but also the little-known, insular inner circle that has ruled the country like a family operation for more than four decades.

Al-Assad is from the Shiite Muslim minority of Alawites, and his regime is dominated by members of the sect.

Former Lebanese ambassador to the United States, Raid Tabbara, told dpa that “the latest gains made by the rebels inside Damascus” were likely to encourage many military officials and others to defect.

He added: “We will see more support for the revolution in the coming days.”

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