Assad’s regime near end — defector
FORMER Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab said in Amman yesterday President Bashar al-Assad’s government was falling apart and controls only 30% of the country.
His comments came as Mr Assad was dealt another diplomatic blow yesterday when it was proposed that Syria be suspended from the Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), a step opposed by Mr Assad’s Shiite Muslim ally Iran.
In his first public appearance since defecting to the opposition, Mr Hijab told a news conference in Jordan that the government’s spirits were low after struggling for 17 months to crush the revolt against Mr Assad’s rule.
"I tell you out of my experience and the position I occupied that the regime is collapsing, morally, materially and economically. Militarily it is crumbling as it no longer occupies more than 30% of Syrian territory." Mr Hijab did not elaborate and took no questions.
Mr Assad will view the OIC move to suspend Syria, an attempt to deepen his isolation set to be adopted at a summit of the 57-member body in Mecca, as the work of Sunni Muslim states backing the "terrorists" — as he refers to rebels — out to topple him.
Iran was scathing about the latest international attempt to isolate Mr Assad, which was agreed by OIC foreign ministers on Monday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likely to take up the cudgels on Mr Assad’s behalf at the two-day Mecca summit that may highlight the rift between the Shiite Islamic Republic and Sunni-ruled countries that want the Syrian leader to step down.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all but admitted to paying for arms that reach Syrian rebels via Turkey to try to counter Mr Assad’s mostly Russian-armed military.
China, which along with Russia has blocked any United Nations (UN) Security Council action on Syria, tried to show an even-handed approach by receiving a Mr Assad aide, due in Beijing last night, but said it is considering inviting his political opponents.
Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior adviser to Mr Assad, was expected in Beijing last night and will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the foreign ministry said.
Divisions among big powers and regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have stymied diplomatic attempts to calm conflict in Syria.. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 180 died on Monday.
The violence, now focused on the city of Aleppo but flaring in many other areas, has displaced 1.5-million people inside Syria and forced many to flee abroad, with 150,000 registered refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, UN figures show. Deaths have reached an estimated 21,000.
UN emergency relief co-ordinator Valerie Amos is in Syria to assess the growing humanitarian crisis. Efforts to arrange ceasefires to let relief convoys through have failed. A UN official said last month the Syrian authorities had denied visas to western aid workers. Ms Amos first went to Syria in March to seek access for aid workers to badly hit areas.
In Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and its economic hub, food is becoming scarce and expensive. People are queuing for basics such as bread and water.
Mr Assad is fighting to survive in power, relying on military and security forces dominated by members of his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. They are battling a deadly insurgency alongside a popular uprising supported mostly by Syria’s 70% Sunni Muslim majority.
Reports yesterday said former Libyan fighters had joined the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Jubilant rebels said they had shot down a Syrian jet fighter, using newly acquired high-calibre anti-aircraft guns, and captured its pilot on Monday.
Elsewhere, disturbing footage on YouTube appears to show rebels throwing bodies from the roof of a post office, while a crowd of shouting men watched. In another clip, a man’s throat is slit with a knife by captors who accuse him of being a pro-Assad shabbiha militiaman.
Such images will cause alarm among western and other countries that have backed the rebels but are worried lest the conflict degenerate into a sectarian civil war, as happened in Iraq.
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