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News from Damascus

Puzzlingly, this story has flown completely under the radar, despite its importance. Two days ago, a brigadier general named Mohammad Suleiman was shot in the head at a seaside resort in Syria. Suleiman was the Syrian government’s liaison with Hezbollah:

A Syrian opposition Web site said Suleiman, a confidant of President Bashar al-Assad, had been shot in the head in his seaside villa. Another site said the shots had been fired by a sniper from a boat. The resort was cordoned off for hours and local media did not report the killing.

Assad was visiting Iran on Saturday. His brother Maher al-Assad, head of the Republican Guards, and other senior officers were at Suleiman’s funeral in the town of Dreikish, east of Tartous, sources said.

The presence of Maher al-Assad, one of the most powerful figures in Syria, indicated Suleiman’s pivotal role in the Syrian hierarchy and the high regard he enjoyed among members of the ruling class.

“This is earth-shattering. Since when do we hear of assassinations taking place like this in Syria? Suleiman was privy to many things,” one of the sources told Reuters.

Arab media, including Lebanon’s Future television station, had earlier reported the killing. There was no comment from the Syrian authorities, who pride themselves on maintaining stability in the country of 19 million people.

Bashar Assad has now absorbed three unanswered blows which have been struck either by Israel, or which are perceived as having been struck by Israel: the airstrike in September, 2007; the assassination of Imad Mughniyah in February of this year; and now the assassination of the government’s point man on Hezbollah. Whether the two recent killings were in fact Israeli operations is more or less irrelevant. What’s important is that they reveal the true nature of the Syrian regime. Regardless of his ability to convince many people to the contrary, Bashar Assad is demonstrably weak and vulnerable.


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