Middle East

Syria crisis: Middle East pundits eye end game

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, stands with Syrian Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha, right, and an unidentified man during a ceremony in Damascus, Syria
Image caption Syrian Defence Minister Daoud Rajiha (R), one of the ministers killed in the blast, was part of President Assad's (L) inner circle

Press commentators across the Middle East have been reading the runes after a bomb attack killed three senior regime figures.

Twenty-four hours on, with reports about the attack still leading pan-Arab TV bulletins, many pundits see signs that an end game is approaching.

'Fear of the unknown'

Leading pan-Arab titles see the attack as signalling the beginning of the end for President Assad.

Overthrowing the regime is the "only goal", says UK-based al-Hayat in its editorial headlined "Imminent end". "This is what the battle in Damascus means, and what yesterday's explosion means."

"Silent joy and a fear of the unknown loom in Damascus," says pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. The regime "may not make it until the end of Ramadan. Who knows, it may not survive tonight!"

President Assad has been dealt a "death blow", says another al-Sharq al-Awsat commentary. "The tyrant has become like a giant with his hands cut off... [the attack] will make him follow the same path as [former Libyan leader] Gaddafi, who lived his final days alone and was killed by one of his aides."

But some pundits warn that the regime will not go down without a fight, with more bloodshed likely. "It may act like a wounded tiger in the coming days and strike in every direction," says leading pundit Abd-al-Bari Atwan in London-based al-Quds al-Arabi. "It is receiving blow after blow [and] may resort to the Samson Option and kill thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent people."

'Imminent' fall

The predicted fall of the regime is a refrain in Arab national newspapers.

"This attack is full of significance and signs," says Qatar's pro-government al-Watan. "Foremost among them is the penetration of an agency that is not supposed to be penetrated... It is a sign that the capital's fall to revolutionaries is very close."

"We are about to witness the end of a coward," says Jordan's pro-government al-Dustur, although another commentator in the paper warns "there are hidden cards the regime is keeping".

The attack leaves Syrian government forces at a crossroads, says Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal. They can "either destroy the capital of the Umayyad [dynasty], or decide to overthrow the criminal mind which dragged the country to this abyss".

Saudi daily al-Jazirah says the blast indicates that there is a "huge collapse" in the Syrian security system. "It also proves that getting rid of Assad's regime is imminent."

But Syrian ruling party newspaper al-Baath is predictably defiant. It says "traitors, agents and mercenaries" are mistaken if they think Syria will stop "producing martyrs, brave and faithful men who are ready for sacrifice".

'Civil war'

Among Syria's non-Arab neighbours, Iranian hard-line conservative daily Qods says the appointment of a new defence minister, within two hours of the blast, "points to signs of calm" in Damascus. But it warns that any collapse of the government "will result in civil war".

Iran's reformist daily Sharq acknowledges an "unprecedented incident and a turning point". It adds that Syrian opposition forces "are trying to show that Kofi Annan's 'Peace Plan' is a failure".

Turkish commentators are sombre. Syria is rapidly descending into civil war, says Taraf daily. "Worse than that... Syria has turned into an arena where world giants are clashing with each other."

The attack shows that Syria is at the point of no return, says Turkey's Star daily. "The bombs can make things much more difficult for Turkey."

Israel's Maariv daily predicts that the "lethal terrorist attack" may speed up the disintegration of the army, with consequences for the president. "If a division commander decides that Assad has become a burden, this can bring the end closer. Assad is already on the slippery slope from which there is no return."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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