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Assad will fall, Arab states offer safe haven: US

Amman, November 10, 2011

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's departure was 'inevitable', a senior US official said, while troops shot dead eight pro-democracy protesters and wounded in 25 at a funeral in the capital Damascus, activists said.

The incident was one of the bloodiest in the capital in the seven-month uprising against Assad, who shows no signs of leaving despite a mounting death toll, Western sanctions, and escalating sectarian tensions between his minority Alawite sect and Syria's majority Muslim Sunni population.

Syrian authorities, who blame 'terrorists' and Islamist militants for the bloodshed, agreed to an Arab League plan on November 2, pledging to pull the military out of restive cities, set political prisoners free and start talks with the opposition, which wants to remove Assad and introduce democratic freedoms.

'Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad's rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable,' US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, who is in charge of near eastern affairs, told a Senate panel.

'Some of these Arabs have even begun to offer Assad safe haven to encourage him to leave quickly,' he said, not naming countries offering Assad a place to go. He said he hoped Assad and his inner circle would 'head for the exits voluntarily'.

Since he inherited power from his late father in 2000, Assad has sought to strengthen his strategic position by reinforcing an alliance started by his father with Shi'ite Iran while backing Arab militant groups and sticking to his father's policy of avoiding direct confrontation with Israel.

Domestically he has lifted some restrictions on trade and private enterprise after decades of nationalisation under his Baath Party. But economic liberalisation failed to make a major dent in poverty and unemployment and the Alawite ruling elite expanded their dominance of the state, security apparatus and key sectors of the economy, to the disquiet of the Sunni majority.

Although international powers are increasingly critical of Assad's failure to stem the crackdown, China and Russia oppose UN sanctions on Syria.

Western countries have effectively ruled out military action like the air strikes that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. But they have imposed sanctions on Syria's small but key oil sector and European Union governments agreed on Wednesday to stop Syria accessing funds from the European Investment Bank, a mostly symbolic move since the bank does not extend significant funds to Damascus.

YouTube footage distributed by the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an activist group, purportedly showed several soldiers and security police at a main thoroughfare in the Damascus neighbourhood of Barzeh shooting automatic rifles in the direction of a crowd running to take cover.

In a letter to the Arab League, the main Syrian National Council opposition group, formed in Istanbul two months ago, said the League initiative had reached a 'dead end' after Assad's forces killed 100 civilians in the last seven days and that it was time 'to seek protection for civilians according to  all legitimate means under international law'. - Reuters 




Tags: Syria | protest | assad | Arab League | safe haven |

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