x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Only settlement in Syria is for Assad to exit

Whether the Syrian opposition finally breaks the deadlock depends as much on events on the ground as on the support emanating from capitals around the world.

Is Syria once again at a tipping point? That depends on many factors, not least of which is the ability for opposition forces to continue their assault on Bashar Al Assad's power. Whether the Syrian opposition will finally break the deadlock and achieve a political or military solution depends as much on events on the ground as on the support emanating from capitals around the world.

All signs suggest momentum is firmly in the opposition's favour. On Sunday, Iran issued a six-point plan for a political dialogue in Syria that includes cessation of hostilities and the release of political prisoners. Tehran, a staunch supporter of Damascus, is pondering the inevitable.

Meanwhile, the opposition's National Coalition was recognised by the US as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. As an example of that support, a Patriot missile system was approved for use along the Turkish-Syrian border, although at present it may be more symbolic than tactical.

Syria's regime seems to understand it is running out of options. Speaking to the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, Syrian Vice President Farouq Sharaa called for a "historic settlement" to end the crisis. But the plan does not offer anything new, besides being the first time a senior regime official has spoken of a truce, thereby casting doubt on the inevitability of a regime victory. Such an admission is likely a direct response to the western-led moves of recent days.

Calls for diplomacy from inside Mr Al Assad's inner sanctum have long been a ruse to stall for time; they were not serious before, nor are they now. The regime simply does not understand the language of negotiation and compromise, or else the violence would not have lasted for 21 months. Western and regional supporters of the Syrian opposition must not - cannot - take the bait.

The regime's own actions bear this out. As Mr Sharaa was speaking about compromise, the regime's jets were bombing a camp for Palestinian refugees in a Damascus neighbourhood. The escalation inside Damascus is yet another sign that the regime is fighting on borrowed time. Unlike other neighbourhoods that have seen fighting at some point, the Yarmouk camp is populated with people who once staunchly supported Mr Al Assad. Their alienation signals that the end is nearing for the regime.

The developments during the last week indicate that serious pressure is causing the regime to begin to consider compromise. For 21 months, the world's inconsistency and reluctance to act against the Assads have emboldened them. Now is no time to let up on the throttle.