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December 20, 2012

Syrian Minister Hospitalized in Lebanon

by Michael Lipin

Lebanese officials say a key aide to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in the Lebanese capital to receive medical treatment for wounds suffered in a Damascus bomb attack last week. 
 
Authorities said Syrian interior minister Mohammed al-Shaar was flown to Beirut late Wednesday and transported to the city's American University Hospital under tight security.  They said Shaar was able to speak with Lebanese officials on his arrival, but there were conflicting reports about the extent of his wounds. 
 
Syrian state news agency Sana previously had reported that the minister was unhurt in the December 12 bomb attack on the interior ministry compound in the Syrian capital.  It said the attack killed five people and wounded more than 20. 
 
It was the second time that Shaar was caught up in an apparent rebel attack this year.  He also was wounded in a July 18 bombing that killed four of President Assad's top security officials in Damascus. 
 
Carnegie Middle East Center director Paul Salem said Syrian officials have been traveling to Beirut for medical treatment for years.  Syrian troops occupied Lebanon for almost three decades before withdrawing in 2005 and the current Lebanese leadership is sympathetic toward the Assad government. 
 
But Salem said Shaar's medical visit has drawn less sympathy from Lebanese opposition groups who support Syria's rebels.
 
"The opposition in Lebanon has complained about the fact that the interior minister is being welcomed in Beirut, given that the Assad regime is at war with much of its population.  So it has, obviously at the political level in Lebanon, drawn a considerable amount of controversy.  But that is part of the general political back and forth in Lebanon and, in itself, I do not think this event will escalate or lead to anything very significant," he said. 
 
Salem also said the Assad government has been relatively cohesive since the July assassination of the four security chiefs. 
 
"There have been no major defections from the security side of the regime.  Losing one or more of the commanders in the security sector will have a limited impact but will not be decisive.  The regime has proven, particularly in its major Alawite base, to be quite solid, although not able to maintain control of the country per say.  But it is still a very solid fighting force, and that will not be gravely affected if they lose one of these security leaders," he said.