Syrian presidential poll set for June 3rd

Opposition activist says rebels accept Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for forseeable future and could regain control of most of the country

A site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the Dahra Awad neighbourhood of Aleppo. Photograph: Firas Badawi/Reuters

A site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the Dahra Awad neighbourhood of Aleppo. Photograph: Firas Badawi/Reuters


Damascus yesterday announced that the presidential election would be held on June 3rd as 38 people, including women and children, were reported killed in government airstrikes on insurgent-held districts of Aleppo and at least two civilians were killed when insurgent mortars struck central Damascus.

An early date for the poll was widely anticipated. According to an exiled opposition activist, who asked not to be named, western powers and anti-government insurgents have accepted that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future and could regain control of most of the country.

“The general understanding among regime opponents is that the US has sold Syria back to Assad general and this is why the armed opposition is considering a negotiated solution,” the activist says.

‘Temporary partition ’
The Syrian government is expected to secure the centre around Damascus, Homs and Hama and to retake the south where pockets of insurgents will be “cleansed by the regime”, he says. “The main battle will be in the north where a line will be drawn in the sand” and there will be a “temporary partition” between the north and the rest of the country.

He argues that insurgents in the north have been mounting a “major offensive” to seize Aleppo. It could become the capital of an “Islamic emirate” governed by the Saudi-sponsored Islamic Front, which depends on Ankara for transiting fighters and weapons, and logistical support, as well as Riyadh for funds and arms.

Once firmly established in the north, the insurgents – from 20 strong groups – could negotiate a powersharing deal with the government, granting it full powers on the national level but dividing the country’s local authorities between the government and insurgent groups on a 50-50 basis, he says.

There are “no moderate” insurgent groups, they are all fundamentalist to differing degrees, with the most “moderate” being the Muslim Brotherhood which the Saudis reject as a potential governing party. “If Saudi Arabia is forced to choose between the Brotherhood and Assad, it would choose Assad but would prefer to wait until he becomes weaker.” Qatar has “capitulated” to the Saudis over the Brotherhood and they would like Turkey to follow suit, he said.

However, another source insists Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains committed to the Brotherhood. Two years before the eruption of unrest in Syria, the source says, Mr Erdogan pressurised Dr Assad to allow the Brotherhood to function as a political party.

The activist believes Dr Assad is “tactically stronger on the ground”, but says Damascus has become “dependent on Iran” politically, financially, and militarily. Syria used to adopt an independent policy and could act as a counter weight to Iran on the regional level. “Now Syria has lost its independence”, from Iran, he says.

Critical of US
The activist is sharply critical of the US for permitting retired ambassador Robert Ford to run Washington’s policy on Syria. Early in the conflict, Mr Ford became the US ambassador to anti-government activists and skewed US policy, he says. The Obama administration needed a senior figure, an undersecretary of state or a special envoy to handle policy, he argues.

The appointment of Daniel Rubinstein, a former US consul general in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, to succeed Mr Ford as special envoy to Syria, is unlikely to boost US credibility with either the government or insurgents, the activist says.

It will be difficult to end the conflict because war-time economic structures have developed and army and insurgents have a financial interest in keeping the conflict going. For example, “they restrict food supplies to besieged areas and sell them on the black market”.

“The rounds of bullets expended in a month equal the value of Syria’s wheat production in a year when rains have been good,”he says.