|Assad's Mother Fled Syria, US Ambassador Confirms|
|[Times of Israel] Anisa Makhlouf reportedly reunites with her daughter, Bushra Assad, in the United Arab Emirates|
Anisa Makhlouf, the mother of Syria's , has fled the country, and is currently residing in the United Arab Emirates, a former American envoy to the civil war-torn country confirmed Thursday.
"Members of the regime, little by little, are flaking off," said Robert Ford, who is still officially the US ambassador to Syria, even though relations between the two countries have been in a hiatus.
"They themselves know they are losing," he told CNN.
Makhlouf, the widow of former president Bashir al-Assad, is considered a powerful figure in Syria, despite her advanced aged -- she was born in 1934 -- and the scarcity of her public appearances.
According to recent reports, Makhlouf joined her daughter, Bashir al-Assad's eldest sister, Bushra, in the UAE.
Bushra Assad escaped Syria with her five children in July 2012, after her husband, Bashar's close confidant Assef Shawkat, was killed in a bombing in that also claimed the lives of Syria's defense minister and a top general.
According to Ford, the Assad regime is crumbling bit by bit.
"You can see little by little the inner core is weakening," he said. "But again, it's a gradual process."
When the UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met with Assad in December, Ford said, it was clear that the war was closing in on the embattled president.
"He told us that you could hear artillery outside the president's office," he said. "The fighting is getting that close now to the inner circle itself. And so you can imagine what that does to their own spirits, their own morale."
Assad has grown increasingly entrenched in the 22 months since the start of a popular uprising that has called for his ouster and claimed the lives of over 60,000 Syrians, according to UN figures.
According to a recent report in the Saudi daily al-Watan, the Syrian president has moved with his family and a select cadre of associates to a warship off Syria's coast, where he is being guarded by Russian naval forces.
Russia has remained the regime's staunchest ally, vetoing international intervention at the UN Security Council.
Intelligence sources told the paper that Assad's fear of opposition advances in the capital was among the reasons for his retreat to sea, which would allow for quick evacuation to Moscow if need be.
Assad now travels by helicopter to mainland Syria for official meetings in his presidential palace in Damascus, having lost faith in his security detail, the report said.
But despite the mounting pressure on Assad, on Thursday the French foreign minister told s that the regime's fall was not imminent -- a stark admission by , one of the most ardent supporters of the Syrian rebels.
"The solution that we hoped for -- that is to say, Bashar's fall, the rise of the opposition to power -- there are no recent signs that are as positive as that," Laurent Fabius said.
|Syrian Opposition Reports Deputy Defense Minister Killed|
|Syrian opposition officials in London reported that Deputy Minister of Defense of Syria Assef Shawkat, husband of Bushra Assad was killed during an argument with his aide General Ali Mamlouk.|
"Yer mother's mustache!"
"I show my shoes at youse!"
"Oh yeah? I fills youse with lead!!" [BLAM] [BLAM] [BLAMMITY BLAM]
"Eeek! I am undone!" [THUNK] "Rosebud!" [gasp] [rattle] [twitch]
According to the report, which has yet to be confirmed by official sources, Shawkat was secretly rushed to hospital in Damascus where he died of his wounds. Other sources claim he's in a coma.
General Assef Shawkat is the deputy Minister of Defense of Syria since September 2011. He is married to Bashar Assad's sister Bushra and is from the Sunni sect. He is a member of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. Since the appointment of General Dawoud Rajiha to head the Ministry of Defense, Shawkat is an important figure in the Ministry of Defense, though the army is under the de facto control of Maher al-Assad, the president's brother.
So did Assef decide to join the rebels, or was he playing a double game and got caught, or did Pencilneck just want to shorten the lines of communication?
|Report: Assad's Brother-in-Law Behind Mughniyeh Death|
|Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's brother-in-law is suspected of engineering the assassination of Hizbullah's operations officer Imad Mughniyeh, according to a report Saturday in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siasa ("Politics"). The news report appeared under the headline "Mughniyeh's elimination breaking the back of Damascus regime."|
The suspicions against the man, Colonel Wasef Shweikat, surfaced after his wife, Bashar Assad's sister Bushra, relocated to Paris with her children following the assassination. The move followed a split between Bashar and Bushra, which began when Mughniyeh informed Bashar of a plot against his regime.
The paper said Shweikat met with a senior American intelligence officer in a European country. Mughniyeh got wind of the clandestine meeting and informed Bashar personally about it. This is what caused the rift between Bashar Assad and his sister.
Bashar slapped his sister in the face after he informed her of the suspicions against her husband. Assad told his sister that Shweikat and the American agent met to discuss a possible coup in Syria, in which Shweikat would seize power.
Tension between Mughniyeh and Shweikat was not a new thing, Al-Siasa explained. Mughniyeh had repeatedly attempted to weaken Shweikat's standing in the Syrian power echelon. This is why Shweikat is a major suspect in the planning of the assassination.
Suspicions against Shweikat have increased since Bashar Assad appointed Hafez Makluf, the Head of General Intelligence, to head the investigation of the assassination. Makluf is considered to be a political rival of Shweikat.
Bushra Assad is said to be preparing to move again, from Paris to one of the Gulf emirates.
A month ago, the newspaper reported that none other than Hassan Nasrallah was the man behind the assassination of his operations officer. Nasrallah reportedly refused to allow Syrian investigators to interrogate three of his senior officers, because he feared that a connection would be established between the Mughniyeh assassination and a split between Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Kuwait has been disseminating information which shows Mughniyeh in a bad light, since his assassination. The Gulf state suspects Mughniyeh of involvement in the hijacking of two Kuwaiti airliners in the 1980s. Members of the Kuwaiti parliament who protested and grieved Mughneiyeh's death were put on trial.
A Lebanese newspaper reported Saturday that Syria recently sent Israel a message saying it was still interested in the peace process, but insisting that it must be open and that it must not be carried out "under fire." The phrase "under fire" is understood as relating to the Israeli confrontation with the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Al-Akbar, which is considered pro-Hizbullah and pro-Syria, reported that Syria relayed the message to Israel through Turkish premier Tayyip Erdogan.
Syria reportedly wants the negotiations to be public, and wants them accompanied by Israeli signals that it is willing to withdraw from all of the "occupied Arab territories," and by negotiations between Israel and Lebanon as well as Israel and the PA.
"Knowledgeable sources" told the paper that Damascus believes the U.S. is not interested in this kind of dialogue between Israel and Syria and that Israel will not engage in it without an American green light.