• Maleh in the European Parliament: 'How can a man put a pistol to your head and say I make a dialogue with him?' (Photo: EUobserver.com)

Syrian opposition tells EU that Assad will fall in 'weeks'

13.07.11 @ 18:24

  1. By Maebh McMahon and Andrew Rettman

BRUSSELS - A leading Syrian dissident has told EU institutions the days of Syrian President Bashar Assad are numbered. But there is little the union can do to influence events.

"In maybe a couple of weeks, we will be the winners and the regime will fall down - they are finished now," Hatham Maleh - a 79-year-old lawyer, human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience - told EUobsever in Brussels on Wednesday (12 July).

Putting numbers on the violence, he said Assad's forces have killed 2,000 people, imprisoned over 15,000 and driven another 15,000 out of the country. About 1,500 people remain unaccounted for and there are 3,000 tanks deployed across Syria.

Maleh put Assad on a par with Libya's Colonel Gaddafi in terms of deliberate killing of unarmed civilians.

"Demonstrators through the streets are going in a peaceful way. They don't use any kind of weapons or pistols or something. But the regime started killing people and shooting at them as a target," he said.

"You can't make dialogue with a killer - how can a man put a pistol to your head and say I make a dialogue with him? It's impossible."

Maleh spoke to this website after briefing MEPs in the foreign affairs committee, telling euro-deputies it would be "good for us and good for you" in terms of future EU-Syria relations if the union does what it can to help the opposition.

Experts, such as the International Crisis Group's (ICG) Peter Harling, who is based in the region, say that Assad's brutal handling of protests has aggravated the situation.

"Demonstrators have turned to something else. It is not regime reform they are pursuing. It is regime change," he said in an ICG flash analysis out also on Wednesday.

With outside military action out of the question due to risk of regional war involving Iran and Israel, the ICG noted that a failing economy leading to a revolt by Assad's underpaid forces is the biggest threat to his authority.

For his part, Burhan Ghallioun, a Syrian expert at the Sorbonne university in Paris told MEPs: "Turkey, Iran and Egypt play a much more important role in the future of Syria than the US or Europe ... the EU must work with regional powers."

The US and France, the former colonial ruler in Syria, have in recent days stepped up diplomatic pressure after pro-Assad mobs attacked their embassies in Damascus.

President Barack Obama said on TV on Tuesday "I think that increasingly you're seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people."

French defence minister Gerard Longuet and Prime Minister Francois Fillon urged China and Russia to drop their opposition to a draft EU resolution at the UN Security Council condemning violence.

"It [China and Russia's position] is indecent because Bashar Assad has mobilised incredible resources to neutralise his opposition," Longuet said.

"The silence of the UN Security Council on Syria is becoming insupportable ... each day that passes makes it more difficult for President Assad to stay in power," Fillon said.

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