Russia says Assad downfall likely


Russia has said that the chances of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller”, as fighting in southwestern Damascus yesterday shut a main highway from the capital.

Assad has long counted Moscow as an ally and Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s remarks that Assad’s days may now be numbered were the most vocal yet. “I think that with every day, every week and every month, the chances of his preservation are getting smaller and smaller,” Mr Medvedev was quoted as saying.

“But I repeat again, this must be decided by the Syrian people. Not Russia, not the United States, nor any other country,” said Medvedev.

France said on Thursday there was no sign Assad was about to be overthrown, reversing previous statements that he could not hold out long, and Jordan’s King Abdullah said Assad would consolidate his grip for now.

“Anybody who is saying the regime of Bashar has got weeks to live really doesn’t know the reality on the ground,” Mr Abdullah said in Davos on Friday. “They still have capability, so I give them a strong shot at least for the first half of 2013.”

Activists said rebels clashed with forces loyal to Assad in southwestern Damascus yesterday, seizing a railway station and forcing the closure of the main highway to Deraa in the south.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition group which monitors the violence in Syria, said jets and artillery also struck targets in rebel strongholds to the east and south of the capital after fierce clashes there.

The fighting came as United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited Syria ahead of a UN aid conference in Kuwait which aims to raise $1.5 billion for millions of people made homeless, hungry and vulnerable by the conflict.

On Wednesday, Ms Amos said that Syrians were “paying a terrible price” for the failure of world powers to resolve the conflict, pointing to 650,000 refugees who have fled the country and the millions affected inside Syria.

“Four million people need help, two million are internally displaced and 400,000 out of 500,000 Palestinian refugees have been affected,” she told an economic forum in Switzerland. – (Reuters)