London Asharq Al-Awsat-As Syrian rebels knocked down army defenses and moved in on the country’s second largest airport yesterday, newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry called on embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Kerry said Assad needed to abandon hopes of riding out the war and instead accept the “inevitability” of his departure, hours after a monitoring group reported rebels were almost in complete control of the base in Aleppo province.
“We need to address the question of President Assad’s calculation currently,” he told reporters. “I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception.” Kerry added, after talks with Jordan Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, that he was convinced — given the current situation on the ground — “that there is an inevitability here” although it “hasn’t sunk into him yet”.
And he hinted that the US and Jordan could take renewed steps to urge key Syrian ally Russia to bring more pressure on Assad to quit. Kerry said that Jordan’s King Abdullah II was expected to visit Moscow.
Meanwhile, An Iranian official was killed on the road from Damascus in Syria to Beirut, the Iranian embassy in Lebanon said on Thursday, blaming the attack on “armed terrorists”.
It named the dead man as Hussam Khoshnevis, head of an Iranian agency which helped reconstruction in Lebanon following a 2006 war between Israel and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
A commander of Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad said the attack was carried out by rebel fighters near the Syrian town of Zabadani, a few miles (km) from the Lebanese border.
Iran’s ISNA news agency also quoted an official at the Iranian Revolutionary Guards public relations office as saying an official who worked on reconstruction in Lebanon had been martyred on his way from Damascus to Beirut by mercenaries.
Iran has been a strong backer of Assad as he battles a 22-month uprising which the United Nations says has resulted in the deaths of nearly 70,000.
In a related development, Jihad Makdissi, who was known for defending Assad’s regime in fluent English, said in a statement sent to the Abu-Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia that he did not go to Europe or the U.S. after leaving Syria. He did not say where he currently is, adding that “I have no secrets that anyone would want.” Makdissi said the uprising has “legitimate demands” but left unclear whether he considers his departure a defection.