The World from Berlin 'End of the Assad Regime Is Coming'

Wednesday's attack on leading government officials could mark a turning point in the battle to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. That, at least, is what the country's opposition is hoping. German media commentators tend to agree.

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The Syrian opposition is celebrating it as a turning point in the struggle to overthrow the regime of autocrat Bashar Assad. A powerful blast on Wednesday tore through a high-level security meeting in the country's capital, killing three top officials and potentially weakening Assad's grip on power in the strife-torn country.

"It's the beginning of the breaking of the chain. The regime has lost control now and those around Bashar Assad who he relied on are gone," Ahmad Zaidan, a spokesman for the opposition group Higher Council of the Revolution's Leadership, told Reuters. "The regime's foundations have been shaken. It's just Bashar now who's left."

The explosion, which state-run Syrian television said was a suicide attack, killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha and his deputy, General Assef Shawkat in addition to a former defense minister. Interior Minister Mohammed Shaar was wounded. On Thursday, members of the opposition claimed that Assad is now directing operations from the seaside town of Latakia, though it wasn't clear if he headed to the town before or after the attacks which decimated his inner circle.

Fighting on Wednesday evening and Thursday has reportedly intensified in the Syrian capital of Damascus. According to media reports, much of the fighting has centered on the city's government quarter, with troops bombarding rebel positions using military helicopters. A residential quarter has also reportedly come under attack.

In light of the increased violence, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has upped the pressure on China and Russia ahead of the Thursday vote in the United Nations Security Council on a resolution that would impose additional sanctions on the Syrian leadership. "People are dying in Syria yet Moscow and Beijing continue to hesitate," Westerwelle said. "We call on the international community to act now and send a strong signal against violence, a clear signal against the Assad regime."

He added that, while he believes that Russia and China are increasingly realizing that developments in Syria are not in their interests, he deplores their conduct thus far. China on Thursday issued a statement condemning the Wednesday attack. UN special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan likewise denounced the attack, saying it "only underscores the urgency of decisive Council action."

British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, said that it was time for Assad to step down while US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the situation was "rapidly spinning out of control" and that the international community needed to apply "maximum pressure" on Assad to step down.

German editorialists on Thursday likewise take a look at the increasing spiral of violence in the country.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The rebel attack on the heart of power demonstrates to the last Syrian, and to the president himself, that reconciliation is no longer a possibility. That will make the silent majority in the country think. The Syrians have little love for Assad, but they also frown upon the insurgency and have so far stayed out of the conflict. Many officers will also begin to have doubts about whether it is acceptable to attack people in the country's capital with tanks and helicopters just to preserve the rule of one man."

"So far, Assad's soldiers have shown themselves to be more or less reliable, largely because controls at the barracks were so strict that only individual troops have been able to defect. Now, though, entire units could defect along with their weapons. That will make the conflict even more brutal. Hopes for a halfway peaceful solution for Syria currently hover at close to zero."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The attacks are coming closer. The question is no longer whether the Assad regime survives the rebellion, but rather when it is going to finally fall -- and what comes next. The international community, Turkey and Israel first and foremost, has to begin planning for the end of Assad as do the Americans."

"It is difficult to predict what might follow the civil war and the likely collapse of the Assad regime. That is also true of the internal balance of power, where the Alawis fear the worst and the Druze and Christians remain fearful of taking sides, largely out of weakness. But that is also true of external powers who want to exert influence. The Saudis want to weaken Iran's influence and strengthen the Sunnis, Moscow wants to maintain its influence in the country and receive payment for the weapons it has exported to Syria. Meanwhile, the Americans fear the Muslim Brotherhood that has always been opposed to Assad. ... If the country, assembled during colonial times, is to survive in one piece, then it's future will also hinge on Israel, via the Golan Heights and, indirectly, to Lebanon and the Hezbollah."

"Europe has to get involved. Syria doesn't need money, but it does need assistance in building up civilian institutions."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The rebels' coup makes it look as though the end of the Assad regime is closer than it previously appeared. Damascus and Aleppo are now part of the fight for power in Syria and normality has given way to chaos in the capital. It has become part of the war zone. At the beginning of the week, the government paper al-Watan ran a confident headline reading: 'You'll Never Get Damascus.' But this kind of propagandistic confidence has been shaken. The longer the fight for Damascus lasts, the closer the end of the Assad clan comes."

"During the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend, Muslims are particularly prepared to make sacrifices. That is what the opposition is depending on. A solution negotiated by the international community has receded into the distance. ... The civil war is raging and it will result in much more blood spilled. But the days of the Assad regime are numbered."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The events that took place in the Syrian capital Damascus go far beyond merely an attack on a couple of regime functionaries: It is a turning point. Those who couldn't or wouldn't believe it thus far have known since Wednesday that the end of the Assad regime is coming -- and faster than many observers thought possible until recently."

"The psychological effect of this successful attack is huge. If even the leadership of the agency responsible for combating the insurgency is no longer safe, then they will no longer be able to win the fight. For the Syrian people and the military, it means that those who had not yet dared to change sides will now see the situation in an entirely new light."

"Syria's ruler Bashar Assad will have only one answer to the attack: He will, if at all possible, react with even more violence. And that will drive the conflict to another bloody apex -- one that will result in his own demise."

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Once Assad is removed from power, it will form a vacuum in which radicals will set the tone. ... Syria will become a danger to the region and the entire West. ... Radicals are already streaming into Syria from neighboring countries to do what they're also trying to do in Yemen and Iraq -- which is to create a Sharia state."

"The number of religious conflicts in the Middle East will grow with Assad's fall. Political conflicts, at least in theory, can be solved. But once religion comes into play, the odds of this are slim. The way things are going, this can hardly be prevented. As beastially as Assad may be acting, things could turn out to be even more gruesome under his successors."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The prospects for a ceasefire any time soon are not good, particularly given the fact that the rebels now see themselves as having the advantage in light of the fighting in Damascus. Out of the protests of young Syrians in the city of Daraa, a civil and religious war has been created in which old scores are being settled."

"Thirty years ago, the Sunni Muslims in the country, then led mainly by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, tried to get rid of what they saw as the sectarian and 'godless' Baath regime. Bashar Assad's predecessor, his father Hafiz Assad, had the uprising bombed into submission. But since he took power in 2000, Bashar Assad has had many chances to open the regime as many had hoped. Now none of his opponents believe any longer that he is truly prepared to allow them to take part democratically. Now this is about total power."

-- Charles Hawley

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