A new domino in the succession of high-profile figures to defect from the Syrian regime appears to have fallen, this time one who is especially close to embattled President Bashar al-Assad. His sister, Bushra al-Assad, has reportedly fled Syria with her children out of fear for her family's safety stemming from "rising disputes" within the ruling Alawite clan about the timetable for the Assad family's rule over the country, an informed Syrian source told Al Arabiya English on Tuesday.
Her defection comes weeks after her husband, Assef Shawqat, who was the deputy chief of staff of the Syrian Armed Forces, was killed by opposition forces. The Syrian regime has yet to confirm the report.
According to the pro-Syrian Lebanon-based daily, Ad-Diyar, sources in Damascus said Bushra Assad had indeed left Syria and had enrolled her children at school in another location. On Sunday, the opposition website www.All4Syria.info reported that she had left for Dubai. The same website also reported that Assad, a pharmacist by profession, had left Syria in the past, and lived in the United Arab Emirates for a brief period during a rift with her brother, Bashar.
The Syrian source, who spoke to Al Arabiya English on condition of anonymity, said Bushra had escaped Syria because she had become more worried about her and her children’s safety, due to a “quasi-coup taking place” within the ranks of the Alawite leadership.
The source told Al Arabiya that “some Alawite leaders are worried that the whole sect would eventually be implicated by President Assad in crimes against civilians,” adding that this has made some of them turn against him and that a “front of Alawite officers” has been formed to liaise with the Free Syrian Army to help overthrow the regime.
According to Al Arabiya, the Syrian source said Bushra fled the country fearing that she could be the target of other Alawite clan members, who were implicated by her husband in the killing of civilians.
Over the weekend, another relative of Bashar Assad, Yousef Assad, a Syrian air force officer, announced his defection from the Damascus regime in a video released to the Internet.
"I am defecting from this criminal gang and joining the Syrian Arab people's revolution," Yousef said. He said the regime's violent ways, including "murder, expulsion and neglect," were the reasons for his defection.
Meanwhile, fierce clashes broke out Tuesday between Syrian rebels and regime forces battling for control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey, and Turkish authorities told residents to evacuate the area.
Also Tuesday, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army denied a news report earlier in the day that a $25 million bounty had been promised for whoever captures Assad, "dead or alive," CNN reported.
"The FSA has no affiliation with a Syrian opposition group in Egypt calling itself 'the Free Syrian Army to protect the Revolution' and their $25 million bounty on Bashar Assad's head," Louai Miqdad, spokesman of the Higher Revolutionary Council of the Free Syrian Army, said from Turkey.
Earlier Tuesday, the Turkish Anadolu Agency reported that a bounty would be paid by Syrian businessmen who support the rebels trying to oust Assad. The report cited FSA commander Ahmad Hijazi. The businessmen were not identified for security reasons.
On the diplomatic front, a spokesman for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said the Egyptian leader told Iran's foreign minister in a meeting Tuesday in Cairo that relations between the two countries were being hindered by Tehran's support for Syria's regime.
Spokesman Yasser Ali said Morsi told the Iranian minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, that as president he cannot ignore the fact that public opinion in Egypt is overwhelmingly against the Syrian regime, which he said "uses harsh language and violence against people."
The two were meeting as part of a Morsi-sponsored Syria peace initiative dubbed the "Islamic Quartet," bringing together Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all supporters of the Syrian rebellion — with Iran.
A Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said Tuesday that government forces and rebels were engaged "in very fierce" battles near the border crossing of Tal Abyad.
One woman was hit by a stray bullet and hospitalized in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.
The Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency said six Syrians were wounded in the clashes and brought across the border for treatment. Akcakale authorities told residents living close to the frontier to evacuate the area.
Turkish state TV TRT also said some rebels fled to Akcakale to escape attacks.
Syrian opposition groups confirmed the fighting but had no immediate word on whether rebels succeeded in gaining control of the crossing. It is believed to be the first time Syrian rebels have tried to seize the border area in the northern Raqqa province, most of which is controlled by Assad's forces. Rebels control several other border crossings into Turkey.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials reopened the western Qaim border crossing with Syria to a limited number of Syrian women and children fleeing the escalating civil war.
The mayor of Qaim, Farhan Fitkhan Farhan, said that 100 Syrian refugees entered Iraq through the border crossing Tuesday and more would be let in on a daily basis. But he said only women and children would be allowed, while young men would be denied entry for security reasons.
In Jordan, Syrian refugees at a Jordanian camp pelted the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's convoy with stones during a protest over the international community's failure to stop the bloodshed.
Brahimi, who visited another camp in Turkey the same day, has himself called his task "nearly impossible." But some in Jordan's Zaatari camp shouted slogans implying that his initiative, which involves meetings with Assad, only legitimizes the Damascus regime.
"Leave our camp. By seeing Bashar, you've extended his life," some 200 refugees chanted. Teenagers threw rocks at the vehicles of officials as they departed, according to an Associated Press reporter at the camp. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Ali Bebe confirmed the protest but said he did not see stones thrown.
Jordan hosts more than 200,000 displaced Syrians — the largest number in the region. The 31,000 residents of the Zaatari camp have frequently protested against conditions in their settlement, located on a plain in the northern desert. Jordan says the huge influx of Syrians has put pressure on its infrastructure and social services.
Brahimi also toured a camp in the Turkish border province of Hatay. Dozens of Syrian refugees demonstrated outside the camp, waving a rebel flag and denouncing Assad.
Some 83,000 refugees have found shelter in 12 camps along the Turkish border with Syria.
Brahimi said it appeared refugees were being treated well in Turkey and that he hoped for an end to the violence.
"We hope that their country finds peace again and they can return to their country as early as possible," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Brahimi on Tuesday and will meet him this weekend after he arrives in New York, U.N. Spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current Security Council president, said Brahimi would meet informally with members on Monday.
Also Tuesday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry brushed off Syrian accusations that it was allowing thousands of Muslim extremists to cross into its territory.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal told reporters that Turkey may not even respond to letters Syria sent to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban accusing Turkey of allowing thousands of terrorists access to the country.
"Instead of leveling complaints and making false accusations against various countries, including ours, Syria should look at the situation inside the country and take the necessary steps to correct the situation," Unal said.