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Assad in 'constant state of fear,' but refuses to leave Syria, Russian official says

AFP/Getty Images
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad delivering a speech in Damascus on January 10, 2012. Assad firmed up a timetable for promised reform in the face of 10 months of anti-regime protests but vowed to crush 'terrorism' with an iron fist. AFP PHOTO/SANA/HO ++RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / SANA' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS++ (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

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By The Washington Post
Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 9:16 p.m.
 

MOSCOW — Russia's foreign minister said on Saturday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no intention of stepping down and it would be impossible to try to persuade him otherwise, the Associated Press reported.

After a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s envoy for the Syrian crisis, Sergey Lavrov said that the Syrian opposition risks sacrificing many more lives if it continues to insist on Assad leaving office as a precondition for holding talks on Syria's future.

Assad “has repeatedly said publicly and privately, including in his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus not long ago, that he does not intend to leave for anywhere, that he will stay to the end in his post, that he will, as he expressed it, defend the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth,” Lavrov said. “There's no possibility to change this position.”

But accounts of conditions inside the Syrian regime in recent days have shown that the nearly two-year-old conflict has taken a psychological toll on Assad, depicting the Syrian leader as isolated and fearful as his regime appears to be on the verge of crumbling around him.

After months of nearly continuous setbacks for his government, Assad all but vanished from public view in recent weeks, giving no interviews or speeches and making no “live” appearances on state-run television. U.S. and Middle Eastern officials now say Assad is nearly as invisible within the shrinking world of his presidency, restricting contacts to a small circle of family and trusted advisers.

Forgoing any public effort to rally his beleaguered forces, Assad has focused on his personal safety, according to analysts and news accounts.

Even Syrian media recorded the shift, describing the president increasing his security detail, moving to a different bedroom each night and tightening controls over food preparation to thwart would-be assassins. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Moreover, Middle Eastern intelligence officials, citing accounts from defectors that could not be verified, say Assad has ceased going outdoors during daylight hours, out of fear that he will be hit by a sniper's bullet or other fire.

“His movements suggest a constant state of fear,” a Middle Eastern official said on the condition of anonymity.

Assad's words, however, continue to convey a resolve to remain in power. In his last televised interview in early November, the Syrian president vowed to “live in Syria and die in Syria.”

U.S. officials declined to discuss the mood within Assad's inner circle, but one senior official with access to intelligence reports said the rebels' steady advance on Damascus was having an inevitable impact. “Assad may still believe Syria is his, but the psychological strain of struggling against a determined and resourceful foe has to be taking its toll,” the official said.

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