Will Assad step down?
Arabic media review

Will Assad step down?

Media speculate whether the recent Syrian proposal is for real, and Syrian-inspired violence re-erupts in northern Lebanon

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Syrian fighters search for survivors under the rubble of a building destroyed in an airstrike in Aleppo, August 17 (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)
Syrian fighters search for survivors under the rubble of a building destroyed in an airstrike in Aleppo, August 17 (photo credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)

Is Syrian President Bashar Assad willing to step down? According to Arab media, he may be. But a closer looks at a statement to that effect made by Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil may reveal that Western glee is premature.

“For the first time, Damascus proposes Assad’s resignation; the opposition: We will only negotiate transfer of power,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. But what Jamil actually said in a Moscow press conference is that the Syrian government is willing to engage the opposition in dialogue with no preconditions. But the demand that Assad step down being a precondition.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which still demands that Assad resign, tells the daily that it sees nothing new in Jamil’s statement.

“Syria is prepared to discuss Assad’s resignation within the framework of negotiations,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which also notes that the SNC is working “quickly” to establish an interim government.

The Syrian National Council which still demands that Assad resign, says it sees nothing new in Jamil’s statement

“The question, in light of these surprising statements, is whether the Syrian authorities are serious in this unprecedented proposal, or is this just a maneuver to buy more time and seem flexible to international public opinion,” writes the daily’s editor Abd Al-Bari Atwan.

He then proceeds to convince his readers that the proposal is honest: the swift efforts by SNC chief Abdul Baset Sida to create an interim government following the news; the Syrian government (and opposition) understanding that it cannot resolve the crisis by force; the growing influence of Jihadi groups inside Syria; the indication of US President Barak Obama that he will intervene militarily if chemical weapons are transferred to regional forces; and finally the nomination of Lakhdar Brahimi as successor to Kofi Annan.

According to Atwan, all these factors prepare the ground for a peaceful transition of power.

Sida tells Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya that France is discussing the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria.

Meanwhile, London-based daily Al-Hayat focuses on efforts by French President Francois Hollande to support the opposition on the ground in Syria and beckon the transitional government.

According to the daily, Lakhdar Brahimi came to Paris to consult the French president before plunging into his new position. French sources tell the daily that Brahimi intends to continue working on the basis of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end the violence in Syria.

Trouble in Tripoli

Clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli Tuesday, which has experienced sectarian unrest influenced by violence in Syria, have killed five and injured 50, Al-Hayat reports. Mortars and machine guns of various calibers were used by the armed militiamen, the daily adds.

Al-Jazeera reports that 10 of the wounded in Tripoli belong to Lebanese army.

“Tripoli is hostage to Assad,” reads the headline of opposition Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, affiliated with Saad Hariri’s March 14 movement.

“The capital of the north is still trying to extinguish the fire which the beleaguered Syrian regime rekindled through its Lebanese tools,” reads the daily.

Meanwhile, pro-Hizbullah daily As-Safir plays the Tripoli violence as a local spat blown out of proportion.

“Tripoli — the victim: Who reignited the fire?” reads the daily’s headline.

“Whereas usually eyes are turned to the army to control the situation, yesterday the army itself was subjected to direct targeting… causing a number of injuries among its ranks,” reports the daily.

Hezbollah news channel Al-Manar portrays itself Wednesday as defender of the Lebanese army, accusing “northern forces” of targeting the army to weaken Lebanon.

“The political targeting of the Lebanese army by forces loyal to the March 14 [coalition] is nothing new. But the attacks on the ground militarily by armed northern groups, shattering stability and sowing strife, bode ill. This is either an attempt to empty the north of military presence or establish security zones or weaken the army as a linchpin of stability,” reads the report in Al-Manar.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, featuring a Reuters photo of Sunni Lebanese fighters from the neighborhood of Bab Tabaneh shooting at the predominantly Allawite (and therefore pro-Assad) neighborhood of Jabel Muhsin. The daily quotes a Lebanese security official who said that “when the army and security forces intervened to control the situation and almost succeeded in doing so, a ‘fifth column’ entered the scene, reigniting the clashes and their expanse.”


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