- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2012

Syria’s embattled regime is showing signs of a willingness to ditch President Bashar Assad and seek a political solution to the 21-month-old civil war, which has claimed 40,000 lives, officials and analysts say.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa appeared to hint at this in an interview published Monday, saying neither side can win the conflict.

“We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime,” Mr. al-Sharaa told the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

His comments signal that the Assad regime’s core is “beginning to see the writing on the wall,” said a Western official who spoke on background.  

Mr. al-Sharaa said “opposition forces combined cannot decide the battle of overthrowing the regime militarily, unless they aim to pull the country into chaos and an unending circle of violence.”

“With every passing day, the solution gets further away, militarily and politically,” the vice president said, adding that any settlement must include an end to violence and the creation of a “national unity government with wide powers.”

Mr. al-Sharaa’s comments suggest the Assad regime may be contemplating an exit strategy as the rebels tighten their grip on Damascus, analysts said.

“It might be an indication that people in the inner core of the regime are beginning to contemplate some kind of political solution that they had not been willing to contemplate earlier,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University.

“It may very well be too late [to reach a compromise] … because the opposition feels the wind in its sails and what the regime could obtain a year ago it cannot obtain now,” Mr. Rabinovich said.

The Assad regime, which has been unable to defeat rebel forces, could be seeing support among its allies and its standing among the international community both slipping.

Mr. al-Sharaa’s comments were published a day after Iran — a longtime backer of Mr. Assad — offered a six-point plan for ending the violence in Syria that includes frees elections that very likely would put a new leader in power.

In addition, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said last week that the Assad regime was losing control and the rebels might win the civil war.

Russia has provided military and political support key to the Assad regime’s survival. The Russian Foreign Ministry promptly clarified Mr. Bogdanov’s assessment as saying that Moscow’s position on Syria will not change.

And last week, the United States and more than 100 other countries recognized the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

However, the Assad regime has shown no sign of letting up its offensive against the rebels and their supporters.
On Monday, a day after the Syrian air force bombed Palestinian refugees living in Damascus’ Yarmouk neighborhood, the regime warned the Palestinians not to support the rebels.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the bombardment marked a “significant and alarming escalation” of the conflict.

Meanwhile, the rebels have made significant advances on the ground over the past couple of weeks as they have overrun air bases and military installations in and around the northwestern city of Aleppo and in the capital, Damascus.

Assad is losing his grip,” a Turkish official said on background. “We see an arc controlled by the opposition, from the east of Damascus to the southwest of Damascus.”

The effects of the civil war are likely to be felt in Syria and the region long after the Assad regime falls, analysts said.

“The opposition has at best limited unity, and elements of the regime might fight on even if Assad goes,” said Daniel Byman, deputy director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

But Marina Ottaway, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warned: “There is a real danger that the international community is backing a [rebel group] that does not have much acceptance inside Syria.”

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