Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is reportedly planning an escape from Damascus, preparing for a last stand in his home town, The Sunday Times reported this week.
The embattled leader, facing a lingering 22-month-old uprising against his rule, is preparing for the “worst case scenario,” according to a Russian source who spoke to the newspaper.
The story cites unconfirmed report suggesting Assad “may already have moved members of his family to the town of Qardaha, the family’s ancestral home, where they were being guarded by loyal Alawite special forces.”
Assad plans to “fight to his last bullet” the Russian source told The Times, which highlighted that at least seven largely Alawite commando battalions and up to one ballistic missile battalion had been redeployed to the Alawite territory earlier this month, says Middle East intelligence sources.
They add the missile battalion was equipped with chemical munitions, noting “Assad’s forces mined roads along the border and moved Elite Special Forces to monitor the area,” the newspaper said.
This reflects on recent reports that a flood of Alawites were fleeing to a sanctuary along the Mediterranean coast between Lebanon and Turkey.
Alawites, who make up about 12 percent of the Syrian population, have largely stayed loyal to President Assad. Many occupy key positions in the government and security forces.
If Assad were to take his last battle to his home town, the Russian source told the paper that Assad’s army could “fight on for months with the help of … a sympathetic local population.”
The source is reported to have met with Assad several times since the start of the Syrian uprising, which erupted in March 2011.
“The Americans know that the Alawites are well trained and well equipped and that they have no choice but to fight to the bitter end,” he emphasized, in reference to continued U.S. condemnation of the deadly Syrian army attacks on the civilian population.
The newspaper says the source, who has also been involved in talks with U.S. officials, was disappointed by last week’s American decision to recognize a coalition of opposition forces as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
In a meeting between him and Assad, the Syrian leader reportedly said: “Mubarak may have gone but Egypt remains. But if I go, none of Syria remains.”
At least 40,000 people have been killed in violence across the country since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt, with major attacks reported in Sunni villages, including Tremesh, Rastan and Houla – all of which lie on the which lie on the eastern edge of Alawite territory.