Syria's beleaguered Assad regime has shown no sign of surrender despite mounting international pressure this week, instead intensifying a nationwide crackdown on protesters that began two months ago.
But a confidant of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told The New York Times that the Assad regime will "fight until the end" – a statement underscored by the regime's decision to begin shelling Syrian cities while tanks and snipers remain staked out across the country.
“What I’m saying is don’t let us suffer, don’t put a lot of pressure on the president, don’t push Syria to do anything it is not happy to do," Rami Makhlouf, a business tycoon and brother of Assad's intelligence chief, told the Times. “We will sit here. We call it a fight until the end. … They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone.”
To date, between 9,000 and 10,000 Syrians have been detained and at least 750 have been killed, according to reports from Syrian human rights organizations.
The Associated Press reports that American officials say the US is on the verge of calling for an end to the Assad regime, having lost hope that it will deliver on promises of reform. If true, it would be a major policy shift for the Obama administration, which has sought to engage Syria and woo it away from Iran.
The first step would be to state that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule, as the US did with Egypt and Libya. But before doing so the US wants to be certain it can back up words with action, partially because it's already invested in Libya and partially because it's not sure that the unknown alternative will be more palatable than Assad.
“We’re getting close,” one official said on the question of challenging Assad’s legitimacy, adding that such a step would oblige the US and, if other countries agree, the international community, to act.
The US has demanded that Gadhafi leave power after four decades of dictatorship in Libya, but has struggled to make that happen, the official noted. “So we need to make sure that what we say matches what we can and will do. It’s not just a matter of putting out a statement and giving the magic words that people want to hear. It’s a significant decision.”
It's also unclear whether Europe and the Arab world would back such action.
While many Arabs feel a degree of schadenfreude at seeing the country that has long meddled in their affairs having trouble of its own, they also recognize the country’s "central role in the chaotic dynamics of the region – and its Machiavellian ability to act as a spoiler when marginalized or threatened," The Christian Science Monitor reported recently.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged Assad to allow an international aid team into the southern city of Deraa, where the uprising originated, the AP reports. The city has been under siege for weeks. UN officials also say that Syria is under pressure to drop its bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and will likely give in on that issue.
Earlier in the week, Syrian government official Bouthaina Shaaban told The New York Times that the government had "gained the upper hand" in the uprising, signaling that it thinks its crackdown has succeeded in crushing the motivation of protesters. The Monitor reported Monday that mass detentions have diminished the protesters' numbers substantially and made it increasingly difficult to organize.
"You can’t be very nice to people who are leading an armed rebellion," Ms. Shaaban told the Times, justifying the regime's brutal tactics during the crackdown and describing it as an armed uprising, rather than mass protests.
Earlier this week, the Syrian government announced that protesters who turned themselves in before May 15 would be released without punishment. According to SANA News Agency, which carries government statements, 2,684 Syrians had surrendered, and later been released, as of today.