|President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron met to discuss Syria and other issues. PHOTO: Reuters|
Speaking at a White House news conference on Wednesday, Obama said military intervention could lead to more deaths in Syria.
Obama says he and David Cameron, the British prime minister, discussed possible "immediate steps'' their countries could take in order to make sure humanitarian aid is being provided to the Syrian people.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed in a year-long struggle between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and opposition forces.
Assad opponents engage in ‘power’ struggle: Resignations hit SNC
Meanwhile, the opposition, which is heavily outgunned by the regime and has called for its fighters to be armed in the defense of civilians, suffered on Wednesday a setback on the political front with resignations from the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella movement of anti-regime groups.
Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani and Catherine al-Talli announced on their Facebook pages they were quitting due to "differences" and the "inefficiency" of the SNC, an opposition coalition of Islamists, liberals and nationalists.
"I have resigned from the SNC because there is a lot of chaos in the group and not a lot of clarity over what they can accomplish right now. We have not gotten very far in working to arm the rebels," Maleh said.
Maleh said he was frustrated by a lack of transparency and organization in the SNC, a group led mostly by opposition figures abroad who have been negotiating with foreign powers to support the revolt. Maleh was a member of its executive board.
Labwani, another prominent dissident who formed a group within the SNC called the Syrian Patriotic Group, called for wider resignations to clear the way for talks to re-unify the opposition. The 81-year-old Maleh, who was arrested several times in Syria for his work as a dissident in the past, said he had not called for fellow SNC members to resign but expected many would.
He echoed activists’ complaints that the SNC has been too slow to push for arming the rebels.
But his resignation may be part of a political struggle between prominent figures over leadership roles in the opposition.
"I have heard a lot of complaints about transparency in the work done by the SNC and I felt it would be more effective if I continued my work outside the group," he said.
U.S. intelligence: Assad firmly in charge in Syria
One year after the unrest in Syria started President Bashar Assad is still firmly in control of his country despite the opposition, U.S. intelligence services say, even as their leaders claim his regime is doomed.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three U.S. senior intelligence officials have said Assad holds a strong position in Syria and his inner circle is also very determined to back the cause and remain "steadfast," AP reports.
Intelligence officers noted that the disorganized Syrian opposition is providing little challenge to the regime and that the political leaders of the Syrian National Council do not work as a team and often fight among themselves.
Meanwhile, government forces are very well equipped, U.S. intelligence experts assert. They describe Syria as a formidable military power, with some 330,000 soldiers on active duty, surveillance drones and a dense network of air-defense installations that would make it difficult to establish a no-fly zone.
“That leadership is going to fight very hard,” said one of them.
According to the experts, Assad and his inner circle believe that the unrest is being driven by external forces and their army is sufficiently well equipped to withstand anything but a large-scale military intervention.
While the statement did not speak directly about the timeline of the conflict, it made an impression that the conflict may last several more months if not longer.
The assessment comes with many senior U.S. officials predicting the end of the Assad regime in the very near future. U.S. President Barack Obama recently said that Assad’s fall is a matter of time.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also repeatedly stated that the regime’s days are numbered and Assad cannot hold on to power in the long term.
The U.S. defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has claimed that sanctions and diplomatic pressure are already “having a significant impact on Assad” and are weakening his regime. Israel has also predicted that the end is near for Assad.
Pro-Assad rally in Damascus decries ‘one-year conspiracy’
|Supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attend a rally at Umayyad square in Damascus March 15, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri|
The pro-Assad rally is taking place under the slogan of protesting a ‘one-year conspiracy’ to overthrow the regime. The opposition said that Assad has forced people to attend the Damascus demonstration in order to overshadow the opposition rallies marking the beginning of the popular uprising in Syria a year ago, AP reports.
Video footage, however, shows people of different ages, including children, dancing and waving Syrian flags. Others had the national flag painted on their faces.
With opposition rallies planned all over Syria and abroad, local activists report the increased presence of the Syrian army in opposition strongholds.
Syrian forces capture rebel stronghold
Syrian forces have captured the rebel stronghold of Idlib, while President Bashar Assad has set parliamentary elections for May 7. Political analyst Chris Bambery, however, believes the conflict is far from over.
Syrian forces Tuesday concluded a three-day operation to capture the northern city, located near the country’s border with Turkey. This followed a month-long siege of the Baba Amr district in the city Homs. These apparently successful operations seem to give Assad's government momentum in crushing the rebellion.
Closing the gap: U.S., Russia “converge on Syria”
America and Russia are starting to “close some of the gaps” in their positions on Syria, according to State Dept.
This follows Russian FM Sergey Lavrov’s consultations with the Arab League and UN over the past week. Russian and Arab League approval of a five-point settlement plan for Syria was viewed in Washington as “an improvement over where we had been previously in some of the Russian positions.”
“So are we there yet? No,” a State Dept. Spokesperson said, "But we have seen an increasing convergence." She cited “public statements from Russia and China that are quite clearly saying that they are not interested in protecting Assad, that they are not interested in anything but something that ends the violence.”
Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped Russia will support a new U.S.-backed draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Russia and China vetoed a February draft resolution saying it was one-sided. Moscow believes it had no option but to use its veto, claiming the draft would have sent an unbalanced signal to all sides of the conflict.
Lavrov stated that the Kremlin would approve the resolution if the five principles agreed with the League of Arab States are taken into consideration, these being cessation of violence by all parties; impartial monitoring mechanisms; no external interference; unhindered access to humanitarian aid for all Syrians; and firm support for Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s mission.
The Russian FM admitted Moscow regrets Assad did not always heed Russia's advice. Assad did not always take“timely steps” either, Lavrov noted. The minister stressed that Russian arms have not been used against demonstrators or peaceful civilians in Syria. Moscow is only selling Damascus weapons “necessary for national defense and national security,” Lavrov said.
Annan, a special envoy to the UN and Arab League, said recently that the crisis in Syria can't be allowed to drag on, and added that the solution lies in a “political settlement” according to UPI. The envoy's office received a response from the Syrian government but says he still has questions and is seeking answers. Jihad Maqdisi was quoted by the official Syrian Arab News Agency as saying it is committed to Annan's initiative.
— RT, Al Akhbar, MEO, and TAAN