As Western leaders continue to apply pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down to ease the rebellion in his country—and they act to freeze his assets and those of his top leaders around the world—Assad is reportedly directing his military from an outpost in Latakia, according to Reuters.
Assad is supervising his country’s response to the bombing assassination yesterday of his top lieutenants—Daoud Rajiha, the country’s defense minister, and also the head of the crisis management office and a top general who was married to President Assad’s sister
While Assad, who has not been seen in public since Wednesday’s bombing, was reported to be commanding the government operation, it was not clear whether Assad travelled to the Mediterranean Sea resort before or after the attack.
“Our information is that he is at his palace in Latakia and that he may have been there for days,” said a senior opposition figure, who declined to be named.
According to the Washington Post’s Liz Sly, it’s traditional for Syrians (and Lebanese) to travel to their summer homes during July and August, making it possible he was in Latakia on vacation prior to Wednesday’s events.
British prime minister David Cameron said Assad should step down to avert more chaos and bloodshed. Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: “I have a very clear message for President Assad. It is time for him to go. It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn’t transition it’s quite clear there’s going to be civil war.”
World leaders, including in the Obama administration, have tried to use the killing of his top aides as a sign that Assad is not in control of his country and needs to leave. In the meantime, Britain has acted to freeze assets worth £100m belonging to Assad and Syrian leaders, according to the BBC.
Last year, the EU banned crude oil imports from Syria and in February it expanded sanctions to block trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies and the central bank.
Earlier this year, President Assad’s British-born wife, Asma, was added to the list of people whose assets were frozen and more names are expected to be added to the list in the coming weeks.
The BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner says: “On the ground, on the phone and on the internet, financial trackers in the US and Europe are working to trace and freeze the assets belonging to President Assad and members of his regime.”
But Iain Willis, an analyst at the business intelligence firm Alaco, says the money in Britain and the EU is just a fraction of the fortune amassed by the Assad family and its close associates during 41 years in power. He estimated the fortune somewhere around £1bn and says most of it is beyond the EU’s reach, deposited in Russia and other countries that have yet to apply sanctions on Damascus.