Anisa Makhlouf, the mother of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, 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 Bashar 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, Bashar 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 Damascus 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 reporters that the regime’s fall was not imminent — a stark admission by France, 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.