U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad late on Sunday that the assault on his own population in Aleppo would be a nail in his coffin.
Syrian troops said they had recaptured a district of Syria’s largest city Aleppo, after heavy fighting against rebels who remain in control of swathes of the commercial hub despite being pushed out of the capital Damascus.
The past two weeks have seen forces of President Bashar al-Assad struggle as never before to maintain their grip on the country after a major rebel advance into the two main cities and a July 18 explosion that killed four top security officials.
And in many ways, if they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think ultimately it will be a nail in Assad’s coffin
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta“It’s pretty clear that Aleppo is another tragic example of the kind of indiscriminate violence that the Assad regime has committed against its own people,” Panetta told reporters on a military plane en route to Tunisia.
“And in many ways, if they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think ultimately it will be a nail in Assad’s coffin,” he said, according to AFP.
“He’s just assuring that the Assad regime will come to an end by virtue of the kind of violence they're committing against their own people.”
According to Panetta, Assad has “lost all legitimacy, and the more violence he engages in, the more he makes the case that the regime is coming to an end.”
It’s no longer a question of whether the regime will fall, “it’s when,” he added.
More than 20,000 people have been killed, including 14,000 civilians, since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The United States and the international community have made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government,” Panetta said.
Obama, waging a tough domestic battle ahead of the Nov. 6 election, has demanded that Assad stand down and offered logistical support to the opposition, but his administration has ruled out using force.
International efforts to squeeze Assad by isolating his regime and seeking sanctions against his inner circle have been frustrated by Russian and Chinese opposition at the U.N. Security Council.
Panetta said the United States was paying particular attention to securing Syria’s chemical and biological weapon sites, especially by maintaining “close cooperation with countries in the region.”
His trip to Tunisia is the first stop of an international tour that will also take him to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
His Middle East trip has a security agenda, including new concerns about Syrian chemical weapons, along with election-season political stakes.