Bloomberg News

Syria’s Assad Not Leaving as U.S. Allies Boost Pressure

November 08, 2012

The cost of any Western military operation in Syria would be “unmanageable,” President Bashar al-Assad said as he again vowed that he won’t flee from his war- torn country, Russian state broadcaster RT reported.

Assad’s comments, translated into Russian and e-mailed today, came as 6,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the violence arrived in Turkey, NTV television said, citing Turkish authorities.

The U.S. is pushing to reunite the Syrian opposition to stand against Assad while the rebels seek help from the outside world. Britain, meanwhile, is examining the legality of supplying arms to Syrian rebels under clauses of a European Union embargo that allow exemptions in cases of humanitarian suffering, an official in Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election and Cameron’s visit to the Middle East, which ended yesterday with a trip to a refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border, provide a fresh impetus to look at ways of toppling Assad, said the official, who declined to be named in line with U.K. government practice. Cameron wants all options back on the table, the official said.

Heavy Weapons

“The best thing to do for the rebels is to increase their fighting capacity with heavy weapons, including missiles, and create a central military command for them to elevate their revolution to the next phase,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. “The rebels want help from the U.S. in this aspect. I don’t think declaring a no-fly zone over Syria is an option for now, and Assad hopes Obama will continue to avoid a risky operation against Syria.”

At least 127 Syrians, including nine children, died in the fighting yesterday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 35,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to the U.K.-based activist group. The conflict today spilled over into Turkey, with stray bullets wounding three people in border town of Ceylanpinar, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported, citing authorities. The clashes led some 6,000 Syrians to flee to Turkey since 2 a.m. today, NTV said. The latest official statement on Nov. 6 said 112,000 refugees were in Turkey.

Cameron has urged international action to support the rebels and oust Assad, blaming China and Russia for blocking such moves at the United Nations.

U.S. Pressure

Washington is pressuring the main Syrian opposition group to include more representatives from inside the country. Those efforts are faltering, according to Naji Tayara, an opposition member.

The Syrian National Council, a largely expatriate opposition umbrella organization, is meeting in Doha to choose an 11-member executive body and a president. Its failure to elect a woman or members of different opposition groups to its 40-member secretariat earlier today fell short of expectations of having an inclusive, diversified representation, Tayara said by telephone from the Qatari capital. The secretariat will select the executive body and the SNC president.

“It’s true,” Tayara said when asked whether the U.S.-led initiative is floundering. While he described the outcome of the secretariat’s election as a “disaster,” he said he remains “hopeful” for a solution. “Negotiations are still under way to have the plan pass. The U.S. and Qataris are working to put everybody on the same table.”

Opposition Differences

Differences between Syria’s various opposition groups are hampering efforts to unite them so they gain legitimacy in the eyes of Syrians, as well as the international community. Pro- Islamic groups now control about 51 percent of the SNC secretariat and some opposition groups shunned the selection process, Tayara said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the U.S. is backing a search for new Syrian opposition leaders to draw wider support and better represent those sacrificing their lives to remove Assad. The U.S. is frustrated with the SNC, which has been consumed by infighting and, in the view of U.S. officials, has failed to convey to different Syrian minority groups, particularly Christians and the Alawites of Assad’s clan, that they would be protected in a post-Assad future.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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