EXCLUSIVE: Assad will hang on to bloody end - cousin
The killing of senior security figures within Bashar Al-Assad's inner circle has put Syria at a "dark" and pivotal juncture that could lead to full blown civil war and a potential regional conflict, the embattled President's cousin told Arabian Business on Wednesday.
A suicide bomb blast in the Syrian capital Damascus earlier today left up to four senior officials from the regime dead, including Al-Assad's half brother Assef Shawkat, Defence Minister Dawoud Rajiha, Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani, and reportedly, Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar.
“I think it’s a disaster, I don’t know if it’s the beginning of the end but I think it’s a disaster,” Ribal Al-Assad, who heads the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria.
Liwa al Islam, an Islamist rebel group whose name means 'The Brigade of Islam' claimed responsibility for today's attack, as did the rebel Free Syrian Army.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the attack officials, adding that it "strengthened" the argument for decisive UN action.
Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary, said Syria was "rapidly spinning out of control".
The conflict in Syria is now in its 16th month and has claimed over 10,000 lives according to the UN, although activists put the figure at more than 17,000.
“Assad will not go on his own,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement carried by the state-run Interfax news agency. He said calls for him to do so “are rooted in hopelessness” and that “the decisive fight” is under way in Syria.
Ribal Al-Assad said it was unlikely his cousin would step down or seek asylum in Moscow.
“You’ve heard him speak, you’ve heard Lavrov speak, and he’s not going to step down,” Assad said. “If he wanted to step down he would have stepped down from the beginning when everybody had asked him to. If he had stepped down and joined the people... and gotten rid of the corrupt people around him, who are dragging the country down that road [of civil war,] we wouldn’t have been where we are today.
"Today is a complete chaotic scenario with Islamist groups from everywhere, from al-Qaeda, to unknown groups from Iraq and other places, to the Free Syrian Army to people just defending their homes. It’s chaotic,” he added.
In a report in April, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that upheaval in Syria was crossing “alarming thresholds” and that conflict was in “perpetual motion” and the “regime’s behaviour has fuelled extremists on both sides and, by allowing the country’s slide into chaos, provided them space to move in and operate”.
“Conditions have been created in which extreme forms of violence may well become routine," ICG added. "In turn, this will further empower the most radical elements on all sides, justifying the worst forms of regime brutality and prompting appalling retaliation in response.”
For Ribal Al-Assad what is most concerning is the prospect of an all-out civil war and wider conflict that spills into neighbouring countries.
“It’s very scary,” he said. “They look like they’re at the door they look very close. If we go down the road of civil war everybody is going to pay the price.”