Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said on Friday Arab and international efforts to end the conflict in Syria have moved away from demanding that President Bashar al-Assad steps down and now appear focused on achieving political dialogue.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a key Assad ally, also said rebels who have fought a year-long campaign to oust Assad were incapable of toppling him and that the option of foreign military intervention in Syria was a “closed subject.”
Hezbollah, a political and armed Shiite group that fought a war with Israel in 2006, has relied on Syria as a main political backer and is also accused of using the country as a transit point for arms sent from its main bankroller, Iran.
The group has backed Assad’s crackdown on a mostly Sunni-lead uprising, which both blame on foreign-backed militants.
“Some people talked about the political option ... but with conditions that equaled the fall of the regime, for example for President Assad to step down. I think the international and regional political climate today has passed this phase.”
Arab states, split over how to deal with the crisis in Syria that threatens to inflame the region’s sectarian fault-lines, appear to have backed off their demand that Assad step aside.
The rebels also appear to have lost ground in the past month to Assad’s forces, who have crushed several opposition strongholds through sustained shelling campaigns.
“The armed opposition is incapable of toppling the regime,” Nasrallah said. “Therefore betting on military efforts to topple the regime is a losing gamble and the burden is too great: more bloodshed and loss of life and property, to no avail.”
More than 9,000 people have been killed by Assad’s forces, according to the United Nations, while Damascus says it has lost around 3,000 police and security forces.
Syria’s uprising, which began as peaceful protests, has grown increasingly bloody in recent months as armed civilians and army defectors began to bring the fight to Assad’s forces. But they are heavily outgunned by Assad’s military machine.
Nasrallah said some Arab efforts, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to demand Assad’s ouster appear to have been dropped.
He pointed to the backing by an Arab summit on Thursday for a peace plan by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan calling for a political solution to the crisis. Assad has said he accepts the plan but stipulates that the rebels must stop fighting.
Annan’s spokesman stressed on Friday that Assad’s forces should be the first to withdraw their troops and tanks, saying “the deadline is now,” but fighting continued.