From asharq alawsat, the leading Arabic International Daily - English Edition, by Nazeer Rida, 24 Dec 2012:
US - Russia reach agreement on al-Assad ouster: Opposition sources
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Senior sources in the opposition Syrian National Coalition have revealed that Moscow and Washington have reached an agreement on the Syria crisis, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that this includes “a settlement regarding the departure of President Bashar al-Assad from power”. However the source added that “sticking points in this agreement include the precise mechanism of al-Assad’s departure and handover of power.”
The source confirmed that this US - Russian agreement which was reached during meetings between officials in Dublin and Geneva last week “stipulates that a settlement has truly been agreed”. The senior Syrian National Coalition source added that these meetings "led to two options being outlined for the Syrian President, namely either that he is a partner in transferring power and enjoys international protection, or the transfer of power is negotiated in his absence and he loses the [international] protection that can be gained by agreeing to a settlement.”
This information intersects with other information revealed by Syrian National Coalition member Adib al-Shishakli on his Facebook page. Quoting a Russian source, al-Shishakli claimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has expressed his readiness to negotiate and leave power, accompanied by 142 members of his entourage.”
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Shishakli revealed that this 142 member entourage “includes 108 military and security figures who are responsible for issuing orders to the armed and security forces to kill Syrians” adding “as for the rest, these are members of the al-Assad family.”
Al-Shishakli stressed that al-Assad was including these figures in the negotiations “with the objective of protecting them from International Criminal Court [ICC] prosecution.”Also this evening, The Guardian is running this very informative piece that is just chock full of news, I suggest you follow the link and read the whole thing:
The senior Syrian National Coalition figure also asserted that “the Russians are now well aware that they are no longer able to protect al-Assad in power, and they have no choice but to lift immunity from him and negotiate with the international community.”
For his part, another Syrian National Coalition member, Walid al-Bunni told Asharq Al-Awsat that Russian – US talks are ongoing with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi over the Syrian file. He stressed that “the Syrian opposition will not accept any solution that includes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power.”
Al-Bunni said “the Syrian opposition will also not accept any political solution except after the departure of al-Assad, his aides, family and the rest of his regime” adding “the Syrian security apparatus, which has terrorized the Syrian people throughout this period, must also be dismantled.”
Speaking on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “we are not concerned about the fate of al-Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there.” Commenting on this, al-Bunni said “there is a new Russian political approach that is different than its previous approach” adding “this can be inferred from the statements issued by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as well as other statements issued after this, particularly those by Putin.”
Speaking last week, Bogdanov told reporters that al-Assad’s forces are “losing more and more control and territory” adding “we cannot rule out the victory of the Syrian opposition.” Speaking on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia isn’t a “defender” of Syria’s President al-Assad, adding that Moscow wants to see a democratically elected government in Damascus.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Syrian National Coalition member Walid al-Bunni said “I believe that the Russian viewpoint is in the process of change, after Moscow became aware that the Syrian opposition are making gains on the ground, becoming convinced that al-Assad’s ouster is only a matter of time.”
In a related context, the opposition Syrian National Coalition described an Iranian initiative to resolve the Syrian crisis as a “desperate attempt to prolong the life of the al-Assad regime.”
Tehran has detailed a six-point peace initiative that does not include the ouster of the al-Assad regime, but instead calls for “an immediate halt to violence and armed action under the supervision of the United Nations.” The Iranian peace initiative also calls for sanctions against Syria to be lifted, the start of a “national dialogue”, the establishment of a transitional government and free elections.
In an official statement, the Syrian National Coalition said “the regime and its allies keep on launching lackluster and overdue political initiatives. The Iranian initiative represents one example of these desperate attempts to throw a lifeline to the inevitably sinking ship of the al-Assad regime.”
The statement added “the Iranian regime refuses to believe that what is happening in Syria is a revolution whose goal is liberation from the authoritarian and oppressive regime, and that this revolution is going to achieve complete victory.”
Russian military presence in Syria poses challenge to US-led intervention
Advisers deployed with surface-to-air systems bolster President Assad's defences and complicate outcome of any future strikes
Sunday 23 December 2012 16.30 EST
Russian military advisers are manning some of Syria's more sophisticated air defences – something that would complicate any future US-led intervention, the Guardian has learned.
The advisers have been deployed with new surface-to-air systems and upgrades of old systems, which Moscow has supplied to the Assad regime since the Syrian revolution broke out 21 months ago.
The depth and complexity of Syria's anti-aircraft defences mean that any direct western campaign, in support of a no-fly zone or in the form of punitive air strikes against the leadership, would be costly, protracted and risky. The possibility of Russian military casualties in such a campaign could have unpredictable geopolitical consequences.
Meanwhile, near-daily atrocities have kept western governments under pressure to act. A Syrian government air strike on a town near the central city of Hama on Sunday killed dozens of civilians queueing for bread, according to human rights activists.
Amateur footage from Halfaya showed mangled human remains strewn along a street where people had been blown off scooters and out of cars. One video showed a boy with his feet blown off. Piles of corpses could be seen beneath rubble outside a two-storey building the cameraman described as a bakery. It was unclear how many bodies were in the smoking ruins.
Human Rights Watch has previously accused the regime of targeting bakeries. The group warned the Assad regime that such targeted bombing of civilians represented war crimes. However, in the face of a Russian veto at the UN security council, the international criminal court has not had a mandate to investigate the atrocities committed by either side. The UN has put the death toll at more than 40,000 as the war continues to escalate.
Turkish officials, who accurately predicted the Syrian regime would use Scud missiles after several warplanes were shot down by rebels, also believe President Bashar al-Assad has twice come close to using chemical weapons including sarin, the nerve gas. First, after the bombing of the regime's Damascus security headquarters in July, which killed the president's brother in law, Assef Shawkat, and then last month, after opposition forces made significant gains.
The Turks and western officials say there are signs Assad sees chemical weapons as another step in the escalation of force, rather than a Rubicon-crossing gamble that could end his regime. The US, UK, France and Turkey have warned Syria that its use of such weapons would trigger military retribution. But any such a response would be fraught with difficulties. More...