Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where's Assad? as Grip on Syria Weakens, His Whereabouts Come into Question

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Where's Assad? as Grip on Syria Weakens, His Whereabouts Come into Question

Article excerpt

In the days since key military advisers of Syria's President Assad were assassinated in Damascus, reports have him in the Alawite- dominated coastal region, where he is more secure.

With his capital in open revolt and his regime shaken by the brazen assassination of several key advisers in a bomb attack, Bashar al-Assad's grip on power has not looked less certain since the uprising against his rule began 17 months ago.

Even his whereabouts are being questioned, with various reports asserting that he and his family have fled Damascus for the relative safety of Latakia or Tartous (see map), both port cities on the Mediterranean coast and an area where the Alawite sect - to which the Assad family belongs - predominates. State-run media continue to report that he is in the capital.

As fighting in Damascus entered a sixth day, panicked residents fled the city and headed toward the nearby border with Lebanon. Up to 30,000 Syrians were said to have entered Lebanon in the past 48 hours, stretching the capabilities of Syria's tiny neighbor and overwhelming aid agencies. Most of those fleeing the violence in Damascus are well-heeled middle-class people driving their own cars. Some of them likely have properties in Lebanon or will be checking into hotels in Beirut.

The sense that Assad's edifice of power is gradually crumbling has hastened speculation on his whereabouts after the devastating bomb attack two days ago that killed Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother- in-law and regime strongman, and two other senior security officials.

A Syrian opposition activist who has lived in hiding in north Lebanon for the past year claims that he was informed by a senior Syrian Army officer that Assad and his wife and three children traveled to Tartous following the bomb attack. The officer is still serving in the Army but is secretly colluding with the opposition, the activist says.

"We couldn't talk for long because it was not safe, but the officer assured me that Assad and his family moved to Tartous after the bombing," the activist says.

Tartous is the site of a Russian naval base that is undergoing refurbishment and represents one of only two warm-water seaports available to the Russian Navy. …

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