As fighting continues to rage in the capital city, reports are that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is "directing a response" to yesterday's bombing of his top staff from the coastal city of Latakia. Assad has not been seen or heard from since the attack that killed three of his top military and intelligence advisers, including his brother-in-law.
The "Battle for Damascus" has entered its fifth day and how it plays out over the coming hours could determine the future of the entire region. If the capital is no longer safe for Assad, that suggests the base of his power is gone and more and more supporters will flee him. Even if the rebels are not able to take control of the city, they could still draw key forces away from other battlegrounds and open up the rest of the nation to rebel takeover. Either way, Assad has never appeared more vulnerable and groups that stood by him (or simply tried to stay out of the conflict) fear what will happen to them once he's gone.
The United State is also making contingency plans for Assad's exit, in particular, the fate of his chemical weapons stockpile, which they could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon continue to stand by Assad and could be the beneficiary of whatever actions he attempts to take in his final moments of desperation, even as the loss of their patron could threaten their dominance in. The uncertain nature of everything on the ground led Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to say on Wednesday that the crisis is “rapidly spinning out of control.” Should Assad fall, the chaos would only grow.
In a final complication, the mandate for the U.N. monitoring mission expires tomorrow and the Norwegian general leading the mission says he won't be coming back. With little authority and no power to intervene, General Robert Mood admits that little has changed and "we are not on the track for peace." Russia is expected to veto yet another Security Council resolution today, but it's looking more and more likely that the Syrians themselves might be able to break the back of the regime on their own.
In other Syria news:
- A new, never-before-seen video of Muammar Qaddafi taken moments after he was killed was being circulated by Syria activists and is meant to be a warning to Assad.
- British Prime Minister David Cameron said it is time for Assad to go and is pressuring the Russians to relent and push through a transition of power.
- The BBC says that more than £100 million worth of assets belonging to top Syrian leaders, including Assad, have been frozen.
- The New York Times also looks at how the use of ever-more sophisticated bombs has been the key to rebels success.
- Syrian state TV warned citizen of Damascus that gunmen dressed in military uniforms may attack civilians — which is exactly what real soldiers might say if they wanted to attack civilians and not get in trouble for it.