Free Syrian Army offers reward of $25m to kill Assad

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

SYRIAN TROOPS have clashed with rebels in northern districts of Aleppo as the rebel Free Syrian Army offered a reward of $25 million for the assassination of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey’s Anadolou news agency quoted commander Ahmad Hijazi, who said the money would be paid by supporters and businessmen “both at home and abroad”.

Al-Arabiya satellite channel reported that Bushra al-Assad, the president’s sister, has fled Syria. Her husband, intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, was killed by a bomb in July. The channel has also said French police defused a bomb planted near the Paris home of former Syrian defence minister Mustafa Tlass, whose son Manaf defected to the opposition.

Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi told Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi that rapprochement between the two countries was being obstructed by Tehran’s backing for Dr Assad.

In Cairo for a meeting of the four-nation contact group on Syria, Mr Salehi called for a “simultaneous halt in clashes and violence by the sides in Syria”, a peaceful solution to the crisis without external intervention and an end to financial and military aid for the rebels – supplied by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Turkey.

Mr Salehi, who is due in Damascus today, said “observers” from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran could “monitor the process of stopping the violence” and pressed for talks “to help . . . reform and finding a democratic approach”.

However, Egyptian foreign minister Muhammad Kamel Amr said: “It is too early to say we have come up with any specifics. We exchanged views [in order] to reach a plan . . . to stop the bloodshed.

The group is set to meet on the sidelines of UN General Assembly when the Saudi minister, who is recovering from surgery, could attend. “Consultations with Saudi Arabia are necessary because the kingdom is a key player in the attempt to reach a solution,” Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi briefed the three ministers on talks he had last weekend with Dr Assad before flying to southwestern Turkey where he visited Syrian refugees in the Altinozu camp in Hatay province near the Syrian border.

Meanwhile, US and Swedish think-tanks have warned that the participation of fundamentalists is undermining the rebel cause.

The US Institute for the Understanding of War said: “The jihadist presence has diminished the moral high ground of the opposition” and induced fear among western backers that the rebellion “has been hijacked by . . . radical elements”.

Aron Lund of the Swedish Institute for International Affairs said “media conscious” fundamentalists were exploiting sectarianism in order to “punch above their weight”. He told the Guardian: “The more militarised and the more violent and bitter the conflict . . . the more you see the religious affiliation start to matter.”

He noted that the “100 per cent Sunni leadership” of the Free Army “is feeding into the [fundamentalists’] narrative of the conflict”. If the sectarian trend was not halted, polarisation between religious groups, regions and ethnicities could continue and Syria could disintegrate, he added.

UN special co-ordinator for regional peace Robert Serry told the Security Council that casualties in the 18-month Syrian conflict were highest in August and warned that the “grim spiral of violence” could have dire consequences for neighbouring countries.

The UN estimates that 19,000 people have died in the conflict, while the US says more than 255,000 have fled Syria and 2.5 million need assistance inside the country.

German magazine Der Spiegel meanwhile has quoted unidentified witnesses claiming at the end of August that the Syrian army may have tested missiles that could carry chemical warheads.