Assad spirits children to Europe

Feeling the heat.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s children, Hafez, 11, Zein, 9, and Karim, 7, were flown with their grandmother, Anisa Makhlouf, to a western European country • Assad’s wife, Asma, will apparently join her children this week • Assad feared Security Council would impose no-fly zone over Syria that would prevent his family from leaving the country.

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma.

Israel Hayom – Syrian President Bashar Assad secretly sent his three children out of Syria to an unknown destination in western Europe last week, a senior Egyptian official has told Israel Hayom.

On Thursday night, Feb. 2, a heavily protected convoy transported Assad’s children from Damascus to a secure military airport north of the city, and reportedly came under fire by rebels who assumed that the convoy was carrying someone important. Contrary to other reports at the time which stated that the convoy was forced to turn back before reaching the airport, Israel Hayom has learned that the convoy did deliver its “cargo” and made its way back to Damascus afterward.

Israel Hayom learned from the Egyptian official that as well as Assad’s children – Hafez, 11, Zein, 9, and Karim, 7 – the convoy contained Assad’s mother, Anisa Makhlouf al-Assad, and the children of some of his relatives, including those of his millionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf.

A private plane was designated for the operation and reportedly headed first for an Arab country – apparently Sudan or Yemen – and later flew to an unknown western European country. That country was not believed to be England, despite Assad’s wife, Asma, holding British citizenship and having relatives living in the country. It is thought that Assad’s family probably fears that Syrians living in Britain who oppose Assad’s regime would locate the children and try to harm them.

Egypt’s General Intelligence Services was said to have obtained the information about the departure of Assad’s children from Syria’s military intelligence, known as the Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariyya, and which is headed by General Assef Shawqat, Assad’s brother-in-law and an influential figure in the regime.

The Egyptian official who spoke with Israel Hayom was involved in the Arab League’s attempt to solve the Syrian crisis and said that Asma Assad was the one who insisted that her husband send their children out of the country. The official said he believed Asma Assad would join her children and mother-in-law in Europe this week.

According to the official who spoke with Israel Hayom, the decision to spirit Assad’s children out of the country was made just before the February 4 U.N. Security Council vote on a proposal to demand that Assad step down, which was vetoed by Russia and China. Assad apparently believed that the Security Council would vote to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, which would prevent his family from leaving the country.

Assad reportedly discussed the fate of his children with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met in Damascus on Tuesday. According to information passed on to the Egyptian official, Assad rejected a Russian offer to grant political asylum to Assad and his family if Assad would step down and transfer authority to Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa.

Meanwhile, the bloodbath in Syria continued on Thursday. Reports stated that more than 110 citizens had been killed in 24 hours by government forces in Sunni neighborhoods throughout the city of Homs. Twenty others were reportedly killed in the northern city of Idlib.

According to the Associated Press, Assad’s crackdown has killed more than 5,400 people since the uprising began in March.

Witnesses in Homs said makeshift hospitals in besieged opposition areas were overflowing with the dead and wounded from nearly a week of government bombardments and sniper fire. Medical supplies and food were running out and, in the streets, some of the wounded had bled to death as it was too dangerous for rescuers to bring them to safety.

A Syrian doctor, struggling to treat the wounded at a field clinic in a mosque, delivered an emotional plea via YouTube video. Standing next to a bloody body on a table, the man, named only as Mohammed, said to the camera, and to the outside world: “We appeal to the international community to help us transport the wounded. We wait for them here to die in mosques. I appeal to the United Nations and to international humanitarian organizations to stop the rockets from being fired on us.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the operation to stamp out the revolt against Assad. “I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of things to come,” Ki-moon said after briefing the Security Council in New York on Wednesday.

Turkey’s ambassador to the EU warned of a slide into civil war that could inflame the region.

In Moscow, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich reiterated the Kremlin view that though the bloodshed was regrettable, a solution was a matter for Syria. “There is an internal conflict, the word revolution is not being used – it is a not a revolutionary situation, believe me,” he said.

In a possible sign of an impending escalation in the violence, Syrian web sites associated with the opposition reported that Assad was getting ready to instruct his troops to attack rebels in Homs with chemical weapons. The reports said that government forces had been equipped with gas masks in preparation for the use of non-conventional weapons.

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