U.S. says Assad will fall, Arab states offer safe haven

Thu Nov 10, 2011 2:14am GMT

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's departure was "inevitable," a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, while earlier in the day troops shot dead eight pro-democracy protesters and wounded in 25 at a funeral in the capital Damascus, activists said.

The incident was one of the bloodiest in the capital in the seven-month uprising against Assad, who shows no signs of leaving despite a mounting death toll, Western sanctions, and escalating sectarian tensions between his minority Alawite sect and Syria's majority Muslim Sunni population.

Syrian authorities, who blame "terrorists" and Islamist militants for the bloodshed, agreed to an Arab League plan on November 2, pledging to pull the military out of restive cities, set political prisoners free and start talks with the opposition, which wants to remove Assad and introduce democratic freedoms.

"Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad's rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, Feltman, who is in charge of near eastern affairs, told a Senate panel.

"Some of these Arabs have even begun to offer Assad safe haven to encourage him to leave quickly," he said, not naming countries offering Assad a place to go. He said he hoped Assad and his inner circle would "head for the exits voluntarily."

Since he inherited power from his late father in 2000, Assad has sought to strengthen his strategic position by reinforcing an alliance started by his father with Shi'ite Iran while backing Arab militant groups and sticking to his father's policy of avoiding direct confrontation with Israel.

Domestically he has lifted some restrictions on trade and private enterprise after decades of nationalisation under his Baath Party.

But economic liberalisation failed to make a major dent in poverty and unemployment and the Alawite ruling elite expanded their dominance of the state, security apparatus and key sectors of the economy, to the disquiet of the Sunni majority.   Continued...

Demonstrators protesting against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad march through the streets on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha in Amude November 6, 2011.  Picture taken November 6, 2011.  REUTERS/Handout
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