Blast not a mortal wound to regime

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 01:00

EU DIPLOMATS' VIEW:EUROPEAN DIPLOMATS have formed the view the bomb attack on Syria’s national security headquarters in Damascus two days ago inflicted a grave but not mortal wound on the Assad regime.

As attention centred yesterday on efforts by the western powers to secure a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, the effort was thwarted by Russia and China. This was in keeping with two previous vetoes led by Russia, which is Syria’s main international ally.

In Brussels, European diplomats said the escalation of the conflict in recent days may have led Russia to harden its argument that the situation in Syria is more complex than made out by the West.

A senior diplomat said the fact the regime’s enemies could set off a device within the president’s inner circle was bound to have “very significant psychological and practical repercussions”.

Syrian state television has blamed a suicide attacker for the blast but European observers said this was unclear and added the bomb might have been detonated remotely. Either way, the fact that the bomber could penetrate to the government and military leadership suggested that defences were weakening as fighting escalated in Damascus. “It puts the wind up them considerably,” said another diplomatic figure.

Some European sources drew the conclusion yesterday that opposition forces might be in a position to exercise pressure on some of Mr Assad’s bodyguards by threatening members of their families.

As the stakes in the fight increase and the opposition strengthens, any such development would only fuel an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt within the regime itself.

Unverified speculation in diplomatic circles suggests Mr Assad might himself have been injured in the attack. Other unverified reports suggest he may have been spirited out of Damascus in its wake. However, the fact the government could appoint a new defence minister within 15 minutes of it suggests Mr Assad retains some degree of political authority.

“He’s still there. He’s still in reasonable control, that’s the de facto situation,” the senior diplomat said. While recognising the course of events could change suddenly, the diplomat said suggestions last week that the defection of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq marked a decisive turning point proved to be an exaggeration.

There is growing anxiety outside Syria that an eventual transition to a new political dispensation could inflame ethnic tensions in the country. With more than 10,000 people killed since the uprising began 17 months ago, there is concern that any capitulation by the regime could be followed by blood-letting against former loyalists.