Skip to main content

Syria's Bashar al-Assad won't fall soon, Jordan's king says

By Laura Smith-Spark, Saad Abedine and Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
updated 5:32 PM EST, Fri January 25, 2013
Member of Free Syrian Army holds burning portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in Al-Qsair, January 25, 2012.
Member of Free Syrian Army holds burning portrait of President Bashar al-Assad in Al-Qsair, January 25, 2012.
  • NEW: Nations recognizing opposition coalition will meet in Kuwait on Monday
  • Jordan's King Abdullah says the al-Assad regime has strength to last months longer
  • He calls for international help to stave off a looming humanitarian crisis
  • As many as 36,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since January 1

(CNN) -- The embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not close to falling despite nearly two years of fighting between government forces and rebels seeking to depose him, Jordan's King Abdullah II said Friday.

"Anyone who says that Bashar's regime has got weeks to live really doesn't know the reality on the ground," he said during a panel appearance with CNN's Fareed Zakaria at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"They still have capability. ... So (I expect) a strong showing for at least the first half of 2013."

Nonetheless, fears are growing that Syria may implode as the protracted conflict gets nastier.

Any fragmentation of the country into small states would be "catastrophic and something that we would be reeling from for decades to come," Abdullah said.

Thousands of Syrians stream into Jordan in days
Syrian refugees could face catastrophe
Syrian civil war stuck in stalemate
Challenges feeding 1.5M Syrian refugees

He also warned of the threat of foreign jihadist fighters now in Syria.

Al Qaeda has been established there for the past year and is getting support "from certain quarters," the king said.

"They are a force to contend with, so even if we got the best government into Damascus tomorrow, we have at least two or three years of securing our borders from them coming across and to clean them up," he said.

Comparing the militant threat with that seen in Afghanistan, Abdullah said that "the new Taliban that we are going to have to deal with will be in Syria."

Read more: Syrians find calm after carnage

Abdullah appealed for greater international help for more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have already fled over the border into Jordan and are suffering in the grip of a cruel winter.

He also urged the stockpiling of humanitarian supplies that could be taken across Syria's borders, to try to keep people from leaving -- and to win hearts and minds.

"If these people start to starve and they don't have fuel and electricity and water, and hospitals are not running, that's when radicalization comes in and take advantage," he said.

The number of Syrians fleeing to a Jordanian desert in the dead of the night continues to skyrocket, as officials warn of dwindling resources and a prolonged humanitarian crisis.

Syrian refugees continue to flood Jordan amid warnings of crisis

About 3,280 Syrians crossed into the Zaatari refugee camp overnight on Thursday, said Anmar Hmoud, a Jordan government spokesman for Syrian refugee affairs.

A day earlier, nearly 3,000 refugees arrived in Jordan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Indicators show they keep coming and it's much more than we're used to," Hmoud said.

As many as 36,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan since January 1.

Syria's grim toll continues into 2013

And as more people take refuge from the upheaval, the escalating numbers are straining resources, officials said.

About 350,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan since the conflict began, a number described as "staggering" by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

"The weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year's harsh winter," Abdullah said. "More international support is desperately needed.

"Here I cannot emphasize enough the challenges that we are all facing, both in Jordan and Lebanon. And it's only going to get worse."

He urged the international community to come together "decisively" to end the bloodshed and come up with a solution that gives all Syrians a stake in their country's future.

"The situation is now very volatile security wise. Parts of the country are changing hands at a very rapid basis," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator. "We are trying to get to as many people as we can because people cross the borders when they really reach a desperation stage, where they can't get food, they can't get medical supplies."

About 700,000 Syrian refugees have left for neighboring nations since the conflict began, Amos said.

Young girl survives 11 hours under bomb rubble in Syria

The International Rescue Committee has noted that in Jordan and other countries, a majority of Syrian refugees are living outside of camps -- in cities and towns where social services, schools and even trash and waste systems are not equipped to meet the needs of a suddenly inflated population.

Amos urged donors to help, saying she hoped a Wednesday conference in Kuwait would yield some of the $1.5 billion in aid requested by humanitarian groups.

That money would help Syrians displaced within their own country and those who have fled to neighboring nations for six months, she said.

"If we do not receive these funds, we will not be able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable families who so desperately need our help," she said.

Zaatari is in Jordan's northern desert, northeast of Amman.

Enterprising Syrian refugees, many of whom arrived with nothing, have set up their own retail avenue amid dusty tents and prefabricated metal shelters. The facilities are providing a small source of income and -- perhaps more importantly -- something to do to stave off the boredom and discomfort of camp life.

The United Nations estimates 60,000 people have died in nearly two years of fighting between the rebels and government forces.

Violence continued in Syria on Friday, with three people killed in clashes nationwide, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees. Heavy shelling continued in the Damascus suburbs, the group said.

Elsewhere, rebels raided the Idlib Central Prison and freed 300 prisoners, the LCC said.

Video purportedly taped by rebels showed them using pipes to pry the prison's barred windows away from the wall.

"Be patient, be patient," a man behind the camera shouts at the inmates, with one waving his hand out the cell bars.

Rebels were engaged in firefights Friday with government security forces at the prison, and the rebels managed to cross some prison walls, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Freed, wounded prisoners and injured rebels were treated at a makeshift clinic in Amaaret Misreen about 6 miles (9 kilometers) outside Idlib, an opposition activist said.

The rebels' assault on the prison began Friday and they were in control of 60% of the facility, though fighting continued over two major buildings, said opposition activist Omar Abu Al-Huda. He told CNN he witnessed the offensive.

The inmate population includes political prisoners, and the prison is considered the last major government position in western Idlib, Al-Huda said.

Government forces have an army position, with tanks and heavy machine guns, inside the prison.

CNN cannot independently verify many claims from Syria, as the government has severely restricted access by international journalists.

On Monday, representatives from 50 countries and organizations will meet in Kuwait with two vice presidents of the National Syrian Coalition, a spokesman with the French Foreign Ministry said.

The meeting will be a follow-up to a December 12 gathering in Marrakech, Morocco, where United States, Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the opposition coalition, the spokesman said.

The meeting will address greater recognition for the coalition, confirmation of financial pledges to it, and the humanitarian situation in Syria, the spokesman said. Refugee camps in neighboring countries will also be discussed, the ministry said.

CNN's Larry Register, Michael Pearson, Yousuf Basil and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 5:19 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.