Pressure mounting on Assad regime | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 10.03.2012
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Middle East

Pressure mounting on Assad regime

In an Internet video, Syria's deputy oil minister reported this week that he was abandoning President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Is the move indicative of deeper fissures in the government in Damascus?

Flames rise from a house from Syrian government shelling, at Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, Syria. A French photojournalist and a prominent American war correspondent working for a British newspaper were killed Wednesday as Syrian forces intensely shelled the opposition stronghold of Homs. (Foto:Local Coordination Committees in Syria/AP/dapd) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS HANDOUT PHOTO

The Syrian city of Homs suffered heavy fighting and bombardment

The videotaped message posted on Youtube and showed widely on international news channels shows the man identified as Syria's deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin saying he can no longer overlook "the crimes of the regime."

Dressed in a dark suit, Hussameddin says he's served the Syrian state for 33 years and is now leaving to join the rebels. He urges fellow officials to abandon "the sinking ship," even though he says he anticipates that the government will burn his house and "persecute" his family.

This image purports to show a deputy to Syria's oil ministry who identifies himself as Abdo Husameddine

Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameddin has reportedly defected to the opposition

It remains unclear when and where the video was filmed and whether the news signaled the potential for cracks within the government. Though media reports speak of Abdo Hussameddin of being the "first high-ranking Syrian politician" to defect, anaylsts are split over the significance of the reported defection.

"He (Abdo Hussameddin) describes himself as a 'muawin' which means assistant" Syrian journalist Ibrahim Mohamad who works with DW's Arabic department said. "In Syria, a minister always has several assistants. So it's not quite correct to speak of a 'deputy minister," Ibrahim Mohamad said.

But others consider the defection an important development. Heiko Wimmen, a Middle East expert at the Berlin-based SWP pointed out that a high-ranking Syrian functionary switched sides two months ago.

"The man who has defected now seems to be a higher level," Wimmen said. "And he specifically urges his colleagues to abandon the sinking ship," he said, adding that the move raised internal pressure on Assad's administration.

Military option off the table

"If the regime does collapse, it will do so because of internal tensions," Wimmen said, adding the conflict could not be steered from outside. "Unless there's a military intervention," he added.

But a military intervention doesn't seem to be on the table right now. Earlier this week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Washington wasn't ruling out any options. But it was still focusing on diplomatic and political initiatives rather than a military intervention, Panetta said.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan

Special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan has rejected a military intervention

On Thursday, Kofi Annan, the joint UN and Arab League enoy to Syria, warned against armed foreign intervention in the country. "I hope that in this situation, no one is seriously thinking about the use of force," Annan said in Cairo after meeting with representatives of the Arab League.

No new UN resolution in sight

The United Nations Security Council is unlikely to pass another resolution on Syria any time soon. In February, a resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad's regime failed after permanent members Russia and China vetoed it.

But Syria is likely to be on the agenda when the Security Council meets in New York on Monday. But, representatives are likely to speak about the "Arab Spring in general," a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Ministry told DW. Britain currently heads the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

Mideast expert Heiko Wimmen says he doesn't expect much from the UN Security Council.

"There were speculations that the Chinese would reconsider their veto and Russia would give up opposing the Security Council resolution in the case of Syria," Wimmen said. "But right now, it doesn't seem like you can expect a lot from the Security Council."

Various diplomacy drives

Instead, the UN is trying to halt the violence in Syria with a series of diplomatic missions. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos was in Syria this week to assess the situation on the ground.

On Wednesday, Amos was briefly allowed access to the Baba Amr district of Homs which witnessed heavy fighting and bombardment. But she was unable to visit the opposition-controlled parts of Homs, according to Amos' spokeswoman. Amos said the parts of Baba Amr she had seen were "completely devastated."

"Almost all the buildings had been destroyed and there were hardly any people left there," Amos said. "I am extremely concerned as to the whereabouts of the people who have been displaced from Baba Amr."

On Saturday, Kofi Annan is expected to visit Damascus. It's hoped the former UN secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize laureate can help to sway the Syrian regime to halt its bloody offensive.

But Mideast expert Heiko Wimmen said he didn't think diplomacy could make a difference. Syrian President Bashar al-Assaid made it clear in an interview with American broadcaster ABC that he didn't take the UN seriously, Wimmen said.

"He (Assad) said, 'it's a game that you play without believing in the game'“ Wimmen explained.

Still, the the international community must leave the diplomatic door open to Syria, he added. "What other option do we have?"

Sanctions and defections squeezing regime

Though it's unlikely that the various diplomatic initiatives prove successful, pressure is slowly but surely rising on Assad. Sanctions passed by the European Union at the end of February were beginning to bite, Wimmen said.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos

Valerie Amos said parts of Homs were "completely devastated"

"There's no tourism, no oil exports. So Syria is in the long run – perhaps even in the short-term – not capable of surviving."

Author: Andrea Rönsberg / sp
Editor: Neil King

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