Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Questions are ever increasing inside Syria, and also in Arab and international corridors, about the whereabouts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, especially after the explosion that took place in the national security building in Damascus more than two weeks ago, which led to the deaths of four of the most prominent Syrian security figures, including the Syrian President’s brother-in-law.
Rumors about al-Assad relocating to Latakia have been refuted by dissident paratrooper Lieutenant Khaled al-Hamoud, who also rejected the idea that al-Assad is stationed in either the People’s Palace or in Tishreen Palace, “which are connected by underground tunnels”. Al-Hamoud stressed that he had information to suggest that “al-Assad is currently residing in the mountainous region behind the People’s Palace, specifically in a six-story underground shelter that belongs to his brother Maher and his wife.” Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, al-Hamoud said: “The entire Syrian regime family is there. We have accurate coordinates of their whereabouts, along with details of other strategic locations such as the place where chemical weapons are being stored.”
It is notable that Bashar al-Assad did not attend the funeral of Major General Assef Shawkat, the late husband of his sister Bushra, but he did appear on television at the inauguration ceremony of new Defense Minister General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, successor to Dawud Rajihah who died in the Damascus bombing.
On Wednesday, Bashar al-Assad addressed a written letter to those whom he described as the “heroes of the Syrian armed forces”, which was published in a prominent military journal. This has aroused the suspicions of observers, who wonder how long al-Assad will remain hidden from view.
The White House – after the explosion in Damascus – announced that it no longer knows the location of al-Assad. The American newspaper USA Today quoted the US State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell as saying: “We think it’s cowardly, quite frankly, to have a man hiding out of sight, exhorting his armed forces to continue to slaughter the civilians of his own country.”
The newspaper argues that the Syrian President’s written call to arms, addressed to the Syrian army on the anniversary of its establishment, has “only deepened a mystery over his whereabouts two weeks after a bomb penetrated his inner circle.” It contends that: “The president’s low profile has raised questions about whether he fears for his personal safety as the civil war escalates dramatically.”
In turn, the British newspaper The Guardian attributes the disappearance of Al-Assad to the fact that he now fears for his life. According to the newspaper, the Syrian President feels compelled to stay in his palace and out of sight, at a time when armed rebels have been able to launch attacks in the heart of the capital Damascus.
The Guardian points out that it has not been possible to ascertain the validity of rumors circulating about al-Assad fleeing to the coastal city of Latakia, or about his British-born wife, Asma, requesting asylum in Russia.
Fawaz Gerges, Director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, told Reuters that the Damascus bombing on the 18th July was a major psychological shock for Al-Assad, and he will need time to regain his balance. However, Gerges added that the speed with which he reassembled his team of close aides showed that “far from being a spent force, the security apparatus is still functioning.”
Gerges went on to say that: “I have no doubt in my mind he has proven much more resilient, stubborn, committed and much more prepared to win the battle of his life…I think even the Americans and Western European leaders are taking a second look at him.” Gerges added: “All the analysis said that he is the soft type, without fire in his belly. He proved everyone wrong for the last 17 months.”