Wednesday 25 July 2012

Saudi Arabia stepping up a gear against Assad

Tlass on al-Arabiya, the tweet on his Saudi trip and the envoy who jumped ship

With fierce battles now raging for control of Syria’s two largest cities – Aleppo and the capital, Damascus – Saudi Arabia is stepping up a gear to oust the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass -- the highest-level defector from the Syrian regime now tipped to lead a political transition in Syria should Assad fall -- was said overnight to have arrived in Riyadh. (See the tweet in the collage above, as well my July 18 post, “Would Gen. Manaf Tlass ease Assad’s way out”).
Later in the day, he reportedly travelled on to Mecca to perform the Umrah (or lesser Hajj pilgrimage).
If confirmed, his trip to Saudi Arabia would have come hours after he went on the kingdom’s al-Arabiya TV news channel to call on Syrians to unite and start building a democratic post-Assad Syria.
Reading a prepared statement in his televised address, Tlass called on Syrians to “unite... to serve a post-Assad Syria... and do the impossible, to ensure the unity of Syria, and to be sure to start building a new Syria.”
Tlass, a Sunnite member of Assad’s inner circle and commander of one of Syria’s elite Republic Guard units who moved to France earlier this month, said he was “reaching out to (Syrians) in these difficult times for the country, as the blood of its innocents is being shed, when their only crime was to call for freedom.”
He said the “new Syria ... should not be built on revenge, exclusion or monopoly.”
He said he was speaking as “one of the sons of the Syrian Arab army, who has rejected this regime's criminal and corrupt ways ... and who cannot accept its crimes against our country...
“Whatever mistakes made by some members of the Syrian Arab army ... those honorable troops who have not partaken in the killing ... are the add-on to the (opposition) Free Syrian Army.”
Tlass, son of Mustafa Tlass who served as defense minister for 30-odd years under Assad’s father Hafez, said it was “the duty of Syrians to unite, to build a free, democratic Syria.”
The report about Tlass’ trip to Saudi Arabia comes hot on the heels of news that:
(1) Saudi Arabia is drafting a resolution on the situation in Syria for a UN General Assembly meeting next Monday (July 30). The kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdullah Y. al- Mouallimi, called for the General Assembly meeting and is penning the draft resolution in his capacity as chairman of the Arab League caucus at the world body. The draft resolution would restate the position of the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers offering Assad a safe exit, warning him against using chemical weapons, and pressing for humanitarian corridors and security zones in Syria.
(2) Two more Syrian ambassadors have crossed the aisle to the opposition. They include Lamia al-Hariri, a niece of Syria’s Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa who headed the embassy in Cyprus, and her husband Abdullatif Dabbagh, who was ambassador to the UAE. Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawwaf Faris, was the first to join the opposition this month. All three have now relocated to Qatar.
(3) The equivalent of some $50 million were raised across Saudi Arabia in the first 48 hours of a five-day public campaign for Syrian humanitarian aid ending early Friday. King Abdullah ordered the nationwide campaign on Monday -- the day he also called for a summit of Muslim nations in mid-August possibly linked to the Syria crisis. The monarch had days earlier appointed Assad’s nemesis Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States for 22 years, as the new chief of General Intelligence.
Mohammed Ballout, in his column this morning for the Beirut daily as-Safir, says whereas France is pressing the Syrian opposition to set up a coalition government for the political transition, the United States “prefers to see a military council” lead the transition in Syria (much as Egypt’s SCAF, or Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, oversaw the transition from Hosni Mubarak to Mohamed Morsy).
Ballout says Manaf Tlass is Washington’s preferred candidate to head the proposed military council. The Americans “believe he is best suited to convince senior officers in the president’s immediate circle to depose him.”
Separately, Mustafa al-Sheikh, one of the first generals to jump ship, eventually taking charge of the Free Syrian Army's military council, told al-Arabiya, “Tlass does not have Syrian blood on his hands… He will link up with the revolution and play a role.”