Syrian Rebels Clash With Forces Near Assad’s Office

Syrian Rebels Clash With Assad Force Near President’s Office
Rebel fighters sit at a gun position in the Sheikh Suleiman base, northwest of the city of Aleppo. Photographer: Herve Bar/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad clashed in Damascus, with some exchanges less than a mile from the presidential office amid an intensification of the 20-month civil conflict, an opposition group said.

Sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard in Salhiyeh, a neighborhood close to the president’s office, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail today. Fighting was also reported throughout the city, the Observatory said.

Assad “is no longer the president of Syria, he is the governor of Damascus,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at the Emirates University in Al Ain, said in a telephone interview. The president is “holding on to his last territory in downtown Damascus.”

The conflict in Syria has entered its final stages, and the U.S. and Russia are in talks on a transition of power in the Levant state, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi said in Doha yesterday, according to Al Jazeera television. The anti-Assad uprising has killed more than 40,000 since it began in March 2011, the Observatory said.

Assad’s military has lost control of barracks, heavy weapons, oilfields and roads across the country. Fighters struggling to topple the government in Damascus have control of mainly Sunni Muslim areas stretching from the northeastern outskirts of the capital to the southwest of the city.

‘Getting Worse’

“Despite the fact that opposition forces have managed to penetrate the defenses, it won’t be easy to topple Assad,” Abdulla said. “He will fight to the last bullet and hold Damascus for ransom for last-minute negotiations.”

The situation “is bad and getting worse,” United Nations Special Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday in Geneva, where he held talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

Numair Ghanem, the Syrian ambassador to Algeria, is seeking political asylum in France, making him the most senior government official to defect since August, Al Arabiya television reported, citing activists. An unidentified Syrian government official denied the defection.

The fall of Syrian regime is “imminent,” and the people will only accept change of government, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said yesterday.

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