Saturday, June 04, 2005

What's Happening in Syria? 

Things could get interesting. From Debka:
1. DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources confirm that Syrian army intelligence agents hired contact killers to assassinate the prominent anti-Syria Lebanese journalist Samir Qaseer last Thursday, June 2, by booby-trapping his car. (Washington is pressing for the UN Hariri murder inquiry to include also this latest assassination.). Moreover, three senior Syrian military intelligence officers reappeared in northern Lebanon last week to put their oar into the general election. They ordered candidates to go to Damascus for heart-to-heart talks with their former Syrian boss General Rustum Ghazel.

2. The Baath convention looks like becoming a battleground for delegates’ accusations and counter-accusations over the responsibility for Syria’s debacle in Lebanon. Assad is expected to use this dispute and the political reform slogan as an opening for sacking two- thirds of the top level of the Baath party’s ruling institutions, including, according to rumors in Damascus, vice president Khalim Haddam. He is also believed to be planning to replace prime minister Naji al Oteri with a non-party technocrat, finance minister Mohammed Hussein.

3. Syria’s entire leadership is on edge over the looming return home aboard his private plane of the president’s black sheep uncle Rif’at Assad from 16 years in exile. As vice president, Rifat was caught plotting a coup against his brother, Bashar’s father, president Hafez Assad, while he was recovering from a heart attack.

4. The certainty has gained ground in Middle East capitals that US president George W. Bush has decided to wash his hands of Assad once and for all. Washington will not act directly to remove him; but neither will it refrain from indirect moves that contribute to his downfall. This conviction is reportedly the spur for Rif’at’s decision to be on hand to retain the Assad clan’s hand on the reins of power should they slip from his nephew’s grasp.

Last month, aware of the ground shaking under his feet, Assad performed an epic about-face – or at least gave the appearance of turning over a new leaf.

He ordered his army to pitch in with support for “Operation Matador”, the important U.S. assault against insurgents along the Iraqi-Syrian border, thereby tipping the scales in favor of the American forces. This was revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources in an exclusive report from Iraq on May 20. Thanks to Syrian cooperation, American troops were for the first time able to come up from behind Iraqi and Arab insurgents and al Qaeda gunmen, including followers of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. From launching pads on Syrian soil, units of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary drove into Iraq and executed a west-to-east sweep of terrorist bases


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