President Bashar Assad Reportedly Moved to Warship off of Syrian Coast

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as speaks at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Has President Bashar Assad moved himself, his family and his closest aides out of Syria? That’s what a Saudi newspaper is reporting. The Jerusalem Post quotes the paper which says Assad’s entourage has moved to a warship off of the Syrian coast:

Citing “intelligence sources”, Al Watan’s website claims that Assad has “lost confidence” in his personal security detail, and is being ferried to the Syrian capital by helicopter solely for official functions.

The move, should it be confirmed, raises the question of whether Assad is planning an escape route for himself and his family should he lose his battle to remain in power.

An estimated 60,000 people have been killed since the hostilities began nearly two years ago. Al Watan reports that Assad’s vessel is being guarded by the Russian Navy. The Times of Israel reports:

The Russian protection effectively amounts to political asylum for the Syrian president, unnamed intelligence sources told the Saudi daily al-Watan. Assad now travels by helicopter to mainland Syria for official meetings in his presidential palace in Damascus, having lost faith in his security detail, the report said.

Assad has grown increasingly entrenched in the 22 months since the start of a popular uprising that has called for his ouster and claimed the lives of over 60,000 Syrians, according to UN figures. Russia has remained the regime’s staunchest ally, vetoing international intervention at the UN Security Council.

Al-Watan quotes intelligence sources who say Assad’s move will allow for a quick evacuation to Moscow should the embattled leader decide to do so. Rebels have been encroaching on Damascus, the Syrian capital, as senior officials have been gradually defecting, including senior diplomats, military and intelligence officials.

In his first public speech in six months on January 6th, Assad pledged to continue fighting “as long as there is one terrorist left” on Syrian soil, ignoring international calls to step down. “What we started will not stop,” he said at Damascus’ Opera House.

The Obama administration rejected Assad’s proposal to start a “peace process” and thus stay in power. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Assad’s latest plan was “detached from reality.”

This as Russia insists some of Assad’s ideas should be taken into account in forging a way to try to end the bloodshed.