Syria's Al-Assad May Be Looking To Warm Sandy Beaches To Make His Final Escape

Russia and Patriot missiles

Russia has urged Turkey not exaggerate the threat from Syria after Nato approved the deployment of Patriot missiles to Turkish-Syrian border.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Russia had tried to block the deployment of the defensive missile system.

Speaking at a news conference he said:

We did not protest, but merely drew attention to the fact that one should not exaggerate the threat. Yes, there were [mortar] attacks [from Syria] but we are convinced they were random … Basically, we are saying that the accumulation of arms always creates additional risk that these weapons will be used.

Lavrov said Nato foreign minster assured him they were looking for a political not a military solution to the conflict in Syria.

He said: “It is necessary to intervene politically and diplomatically, and make all those who are fighting in Syria to stop the bloodshed and to negotiate.”

He also dismissed as “rumours” reports that Syria was preparing to use chemical weapons.

“Always recheck such claims,” he said.

Syria’s former foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has been debriefed by Foreign Office officials in London after defecting from the Assad regime, according to Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.

The Foreign Office refused to confirm the claim.

But Doyle said he was told by a “credible” source this morning that Makdissi has been debriefed by UK officials. Last night the Guardian reported that Makdissi was on his way to the US. Doyle said:

I know he was always interested in going to the United States so it would not necessarily be a shock if he went there as well …. The person I spoke was very straight and very assured that he was in London and that he was here under the auspicious of the government.

If Makdissi is in London he is expected to make a statement later, Doyle said.

Doyle also said that he has been told there are currently no European diplomats in Damascus amid signs that the “regime is far more under the cosh than it was a couple of months ago”.

He added:

What will bring it down? Who knows. My gut instinct is that it will probably take some time of fighting. And even when some elements of the regime are gone, there is no guarantee that peace and security will return to Syria for quite some time.

Mohamed Morsi has returned to the presidential palace, after he left it through a back gate during Tuesday’s protests, AP reports citing an official.

The official says Morsi was back at work at the Ithadiya palace on Wednesday.

About 300 opposition supporters are camped out in front of the palace’s main gate. Morsi and his aides routinely use other gates.

Assad and asylum
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has suggested he would disapprove on any asylum deal for Assad.

Speaking to AP he refused to comment directly on the matter but added: “whoever commits (a) gross violation of human rights must be held accountable and should be brought to justice. This is a fundamental principle”.

Last month David Cameron said safe passage and a possible immunity deal or Assad “could be arranged”.

Speaking to al-Arabiya, the prime minister said:

Anything, anything, to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria.

Of course I would favour him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done. I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if he wants to leave he could leave, that could be arranged.

There was no suggestion of an asylum deal being discussed in AP’s write up of deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Miqdad’s visit to Latin America last week.

During trips to Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, received mostly symbolic backing for his government’s 20-month battle against rebels.

But it noted Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s support for Assad.

Chavez has gone even further than his neighbours to prop up Assad, sending at least three shipments of diesel oil to the Syrian government, which is straining under economic embargoes imposed by the United States and the European Union.

Chavez was also a vocal supporter of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and has cultivated ties to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has followed a similar itinerary while mustering Latin American solidarity.

Reports of Middle East dictators seeking asylum abroad should be treated with caution.

In the runup to Nato’s action in Libya, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, famously claimed Gaddafi had fled Libya and was on his way to Venezuela. He cited “credible western intelligence”.

But the Syrian activist The 47th says the latest speculation should be taken seriously.

I’d pay more attention to this… #Syria

— The 47th (@THE_47th) December 5, 2012

Welcome to Middle East Live.

Here’s a roundup of the latest developments, speculation and analysis:

Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been looking into the possibility of claiming political asylum for himself, his family and his associates in Latin America, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. There is little confirmation for the claim but Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, held meetings in Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador over the past week. Assad vowed in an interview with Russia Today last month that he would never be forced into exile and that he would “live and die in Syria.”

Nato has agreed to send Patriot missiles to Turkey to defend against a possible Syrian missile attack and voiced grave concern about reports that Damascus may be preparing to use chemical weapons. “To the Turkish people we say: We are determined to defend you and your territory. To anyone who would want to attack Turkey we say: Don’t even think about it,” Nato’s secretary-general, Anders-Fogh Rasmussen, said after the 28-nation alliance foreign ministers took the decision at a meeting in Brussels.

The US is ready to launch military action in Syria “within days” if President Assad resorts to mobilising chemical weapons, an official told the Times. The official stressed that the action is not imminent, but said: 

It won’t require major movement to make action happen. The muscle is already there to be flexed. It’s premature to say what could happen if a decision is made to intervene. That hasn’t taken shape, we’ve not reached that kind of decision. There are a lot of options, but it [military action] could be launched rapidly, within days.

The former Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi is on his way to the United States after apparently defecting, the Guardian has learned. Makdissi, the most senior Christian official yet to abandon Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was reported on Monday to have variously been sacked or defected and to have arrived in London, where he used to serve in the Syrian embassy. But usually reliable diplomatic sources revealed on Tuesday that he is en route for – or already in – the US after managing to leave the Syrian capital, Damascus, for Beirut. 

The US Senate has asked the Pentagon to consider military options to stop the Assad regime killing its own people, Foreign Policy magazine’s the Cable blog reports. 

The mandated and classified report must include detailed evaluations of the resources needed and potential effectiveness of at least three military options: deploying Patriot missiles to neighbouring countries, establishing no-fly zones over Syrian population centres, and conducting limited airstrikes aimed at Assad’s air power assets.

Egyptian security forces have clashed with opponents of Mohamed Morsi who gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo to protest against his assumption of new powers. Opponents say the drafting of a new constitution has been rushed and is a move towards dictatorial rule. Morsi has called for a referendum on the draft constitution on 15 December.

The public prosecutor referred a complaint against three former presidential candidates to the country’s state prosecution service for espionage and plotting against the state. The complaint against Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdein Sabahy and Amr Moussa, as well as Wafd party leader Sayed Badawi, was filed by Hamed Sadek, a lawyer who is accusing the opposition figureheads of being embroiled in a “Zionist plot” to overthrow the Islamist-led government of Mohamed Morsi.

Once again Egypt faces an awful choice, this time in the referendum on 15 December on the hastily drawn up constitution, according to the Economist’s Pomegranate blog.

A yes vote would enshrine a national charter that is packed with vague clauses, would weaken citizens’ rights, provide for an over-strong presidency and greatly empower unelected religious authorities. But it would also pave the way for fresh legislative elections and set legal limits to Morsi’s now-unbound executive power. A no vote would represent a blunt rebuff to Morsi’s and the Islamists’ ambitions. But it would also return the draft constitution to the same flawed body that passed it, and effectively prolong Morsi’s ‘temporary’ dictatorial authority. Just now, either choice looks terrible.

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