Middle East

Bashar al-Assad cannot survive for long, his uncle says

The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad believes it is unlikely that he can hold onto power much longer.

Rifaat al-Assad told the BBC that the level of violence on the streets was too high for his nephew to survive.

Mr Assad has lived in exile since he unsuccessfully tried to seize power from his brother, Hafez, in the 1980s.

In February 1982, he led a military assault on Hama to suppress an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving between 10,000 and 25,000 people dead.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, is meeting top Syrian officials in Damascus to try to get them to allow aid workers better access to those who have been wounded or displaced by the conflict.

Mr Kellenberger will also press the Syrian authorities to implement a daily two-hour ceasefire, as stipulated in the peace plan proposed by the UN and Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan.

On Monday, Mr Annan urged the UN Security council to set a deadline of 10 April for the plan to come into force. Syria has agreed to the deadline.

Mr Annan's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said on Tuesday that an advance team from the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) would arrive in Damascus "in the next 48 hours" to discuss the deployment of international monitors.

'Co-operate'

Although Rifaat al-Assad tried to oust Hafez in a coup while he was recovering from a heart attack and was effectively sent into exile in 1984, he was only formally stripped of his position as vice-president in 1998.

When Bashar became president following his father's death in 2000, Rifaat criticised the succession as a "real farce and an unconstitutional piece of theatre". He considered himself the legitimate successor.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen says that on one level, it is not surprising that Rifaat - from the vantage point of a gilded exile on one of Paris's smartest avenues - has harsh words for the president.

But the points Rifaat makes are widely accepted among the opponents of the Assad regime both in the West and in the Arab world, our correspondent adds.

"The problems are now general to all parts of Syria - there are no places that have escaped violence - so I don't think he can stay in power," Mr Assad told the BBC. "I would say, though, that he should stay so he can co-operate with a new government and offer the experience he has."

Rifaat insisted that the Assad family was still "pretty much accepted by the Syrian people".

"A commission should go from the Arab League and the [UN] Security Council to monitor free and transparent elections," he added.

A damaged picture of the late Hafez al-Assad and his son, President Bashar al-Assad, in a police building damaged by an explosion in Damascus (17 March 2012)
Rifaat al-Assad considered himself the legitimate successor to his brother Hafez

"Then you will see that the Assad family has got much more importance and support than some of the meaningless figures [of the opposition Syrian National Council] who we see on TV screens now."

What Rifaat meant by that was that he could make a good president - highly unlikely given his years of exile, our correspondent says.

The SNC has called for Rifaat al-Assad to be subjected to international sanctions like current senior officials in the Syrian government because of his past crimes.

'No conditions'

On Monday, Mr Annan told the UN Security Council that President Assad had agreed to withdraw security forces from major population centres by 10 April, diplomats said.

Mr Annan also asked the Security Council to plan for the deployment of UN observers to supervise the ceasefire by all parties which his peace plan demands.

Anti-government protest in a district of Damascus (2 April 2012)
Kofi Annan's peace plan demands that people are given the right to hold peaceful demonstrations

UN officials and diplomats said the monitors would probably be drawn from other peacekeeping forces in the region and could not be established without an end to the fighting, agreement by all parties and a Security Council mandate.

"We hope that the Syrian authorities will implement fully the commitments that they have made without any conditions," said US permanent representative and Security Council chairwoman Susan Rice. "And should they do so, we will expect the opposition to follow suit within 48 hours."

Mr Annan's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, later said Damascus had committed to begin withdrawing its forces on Sunday and to finish by 10 April, with a general ceasefire within 48 hours contingent on that withdrawal, the New York Times reported.

Ms Rice also pointed out that the ceasefire was only part of Mr Annan's peace plan, which also calls for a political process to address the aspirations of the Syrian people, release of detainees, delivery of humanitarian aid, free movement for journalists, and right to protest.

"We have seen promises made and promises broken," she said. "We have seen commitments to end violence followed by massive intensification of violence. The proof is in the actions, not the words."

On Sunday, Gulf Arab states agreed to pay the salaries and other costs of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). The money will be distributed through the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC).

The decision was announced at a meeting in Istanbul of the "Friends of Syria" - a group of 83 countries backing political change.