Here is my translation of breaking news on Syria from le Figaro colleague, Georges Malbrunot, Wednesday 28 August 2013, 9.10 am.
An attack on Syria seems imminent. ‘American officials have sent a message to the UN that it would be best for its inspectors in Syria not to prolong their mission,’ a Western diplomatic source, close to the Syria file has told me.
The US ‘has not explicitly asked them to leave Syria but has told them that the intelligence services have proof that last week’s chemical attack near Damascus was carried out by the regime and so there is no need for them to continue their investigations on the ground,’ the source added.
As in Iraq in December 1998, the departure of the UN inspectors from Damascus is a sign of imminent military strikes. In 1998, the US bombarded Saddam’s key power bases over a four day period, accusing him of hiding chemical weapons, just hours after the UN inspectors had left Baghdad. On Tuesday, the UN inspection team in Damascus used the lack of security as a pretext for not leaving their hotel.
According to ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine, US intelligence services intercepted a telephone call from a Syrian solider in a panic calling his superiors to account over the attack.
Also according to our diplomatic source, ‘The Russians, declaring that they are not going to war, have given their backing to a limited American strike’ against their ally in Damascus. The strike would not be aimed at regime change in Syria, a US spokesperson announced yesterday, ‘The aim would be to weaken Assad and, from a weakened position, bring him to the negotiating table in Geneva,’ the diplomatic source explained. ‘Something the rebels have not been able to in more than two years faced with Assad’s army, that is to say change the balance of power on the ground. The Allied forces will achieve this by bombing Syrian Army bases in the hope os strengthening the weak Syrian opposition,’ our source continued.
A strike on the Presidential Palace in Damascus is unlikely to be on the Americans’ strategic radar; however, an attack on one of Bashar al-Assad’s other residences in his Latakia fiefdom might be.
In order to strengthen the so-called moderate, Western-backed opposition, strikes against jihadi groups linked to al-Qaeda are not excluded from the game plan. ‘Otherwise, this military intervention will simply strengthen the radical Islamists; it will also help the Russians – who are ferociously anti-Islamist – swallow the bitter pill of this Western military intervention.’
The diplomat added that the US is reluctant to use force on Friday, the Moslem day of prayer. The window of opportunity is open from this evening, Wednesday.