x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Turkey could offer Al Assad sanctuary if he decides to leave Syria

Turkey's president said that his country would consider a request for asylum, as US, European, and Arab states discuss possibility of exile as a way to end to Syria's 10-month crisis.

Syrians continue to show their opposition to President Bashar Al Assad in protests in Damascus on Wednesday.
Syrians continue to show their opposition to President Bashar Al Assad in protests in Damascus on Wednesday.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, said that his country would consider a request for asylum coming from Syria’s ruling Al Assad family.

In response to a question by Turkish reporters accompanying him on a trip to the UAE this week, Mr Gul said there had been no request for asylum by the family of Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president.

The United States, European governments and Arab states have begun discussing the possibility of exile for Mr Al Assad despite scepticism the defiant Syrian leader would consider such an offer, western officials said on Wednesday.

While talks had not progressed far and there was no real sense that Mr Al Assad’s fall was imminent, one official said as many as three countries were willing to take him as a way to end to Syria’s 10-month crisis.

Talk of exile surfaced amid mounting international pressure on Mr Al Assad and a diplomatic showdown over a proposed Arab League resolution at the United Nations aimed at getting him to transfer power. He responded by stepping up assaults on opposition strongholds.

With the White House insisting for weeks that Mr Al Assad’s days in power were numbered, it was unclear whether this marked an attempt to persuade the Syrian leader and his family to grasp the chance of a safe exit instead of risking the fate of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, who was killed by rebels last year.

But with Mr Al Assad showing he remains in charge of a powerful security apparatus and the Syrian opposition fragmented militarily, it could also be an effort to step up psychological pressure and open new cracks in his inner circle.

The officials said neither the US nor the European Union had taken the lead on the idea, which has been advocated by Arab nations as a way to try to end the violence.

“We understand that some countries have offered to host him should he choose to leave Syria,” an Obama administration official said, without naming any of the countries.

Before that could happen, however, the question of whether Mr Al Assad would be granted some kind of immunity would have to be tackled – something the Syrian opposition as well as international human-rights groups would likely oppose.

“There are significant questions of accountability for the horrible abuses that have been committed against the Syrian people,” the US official said.

“Ultimately these issues will be deliberated by the Syrian people in concert with regional and international partners,” the US official said.

* With additional reporting by foreign correspondent Thomas Seibert in Istanbul