Israel: May 9, 2000


Syrian President Assad is known to have been ill for several years, but apparently suffered a turn for the worse in early April. The London Sunday Telegraph reports that he had a stroke, but other sources suggest a heart attack or other event. His son Bashar has taken over his public appearances. Assad failed to make his annual address to the nation on 7 April (the anniversary of the founding of the Baath Party) and did not appear at the Independence Day celebrations on 17 April. Bashar appears solidly in power, having previously been given the upper hand over his uncle Rifaat by Assad himself. Assad has clearly positioned his son to keep Rifaat from making any plausible bid for power. Rifaat's stronghold in Latakia was overrun by government troops last fall; hundreds of Rifaat's personal militia were killed. Rifaat's last supporters in the cabinet were expelled in March on Assad's personal orders. Bashar (a medical doctor) was never intended to succeed his father, but got the nod after his brother's death in a car crash six years ago. Bashar is inexperienced, and analysts believe that he is subject to manipulation by powerful officials in the government.--Stephen V Cole




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