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Inside Syria

A close call for Bashar al-Assad?

We discuss the attack on the Syrian president's motorcade and ask what impact this will have on the opposition's morale.

Last Modified: 11 Aug 2013 11:24
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Opposition fighters in the Syrian capital Damascus say they have come closer than ever to taking out Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, after firing rockets and mortars at his convoy in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The rebels are making some progress in Damascus ... it's like a signal, it's like a psychological gain, because you cannot really assassinate a president with a mortar shell.

Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general

The Malki District of the capital where it happened is home to several foreign embassies and is believed to be where the president spends most of his time.

Shortly after reports of the assassination attempt, Syrian state television aired pictures of al-Assad attending Eid prayers in Damascus. It is unknown when the footage was filmed, but the government used it as evidence that the president had not been harmed.

So, what is the significance of this attack? How much of a security breach would it be? And how much of a morale boost is this for Syria's rebels?

The two-year-old conflict is increasingly taking a toll on Syria's neighbours.

On Friday, two Turkish Airlines pilots were kidnapped while on a stopover in Beirut.

It's a huge morale boost. They have in the past succeeded in attacking the inner circle of the regime ... The attack shows that - if it is to be believed - they still have the potential for this golden bullet killing the leader of the regime.

James Denselow, a Middle East security analyst

Lebanon's interior ministry says the men were taken at gunpoint - in a move aimed at pressuring Turkey to withdraw its support for Syrian rebel fighters.

A group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Reda has claimed responsibility. They are demanding the release of nine Lebanese Shia pilgrims who were captured in Syria last year.

As Turkey warns its citizens to stay away from Lebanon, we ask how significant this is.
 
Despite actively pushing for regime change in Syria, US officials are now warning that al-Assad's downfall could be dangerous.
 
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Morell, the deputy director of the CIA, said: "Syria’s volatile mix of al-Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to US national security .... It’s probably the most important issue in the world today, because of where it is currently heading .... If the government collapses, its weapons are going to be up for grabs, and up for sale."

So, have things gotten to a point where the interests of the US and its partners in the region might be better served if al-Assad was to stay in power?

Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses the latest security developments in Syria's conflict with guests: Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese army general; and James Denselow, a Middle East security analyst. 

The return of the Syrian Electronic Army

As the war on the ground in Syria drags on, the country's cyber war has taken a new and extraordinary turn.

There is a PR war, a cyber war going on between the opposition and the regime. I think the regime has learned from the ineffectiveness of the PR strategies used by other Arab regimes that have been toppled.

Sharif Nashashibi, a Middle East media analyst

The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) tapped into two major smartphone applications, stealing millions of people's emails and phone numbers.
 
Within the space of eight days in July, the SEA had breached the world’s largest online telephone directory, Truecaller. They hacked the video messaging service Tango, containing the personal details and email addresses of millions of users. And they hacked Viber, a free networking app used by 200 million people all over the world.

The SEA previously wiped billions off the stock market by hacking the Associated Press Twitter page, found its way into the Reuters page and posted propaganda cartoons, and has taken responsibility for other attacks on big media organisations. But stealing personal data from social media sites is something else entirely.

So, what would the SEA want with the private information of millions of individuals who have nothing to do with this conflict? Could they be trying to sell it on to a third party for money? And how much do we actually know about the Syrian Electronic Army and their relationship with the al-Assad regime?

To discuss this we are joined by Sharif Nashashibi, a Middle East media analyst.

"We don't know exactly the relationship between the two, we don't know whether the SEA is actually part of the regime. We do know that there is a direct relationship .... The ambiguity suits them because it means that one side is not neccessarily linked to the actions of the other. And certainly the anonymity of members of the SEA is important, as anonymity is in the hacking world in general, so their members cannot be punished, cannot be found or tracked. There is a large air of mystery and that is done on purpose so people don't really know exactly what is going on behind the scenes of the SEA and the regime itself."

Sharif Nashashibi, a Middle East media analyst

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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