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Tuesday, June 7, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Opposition: Ruling elite beginning to leave Syria

WASHINGTON — Leading members of the regime of President Bashar Assad were said to have begun fleeing Syria.


The Syrian opposition said members of the ruling elite were starting to send their families abroad amid rising unrest in the country. They said this included a leading financier of the Assad regime, Rami Maklouf.

"Rami Makhlouf and his immediate family have left Syria this morning in a private jet," the Reform Party of Syria said.

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On June 7, the Washington-based opposition party did not cite Makhlouf's destination. The Syrian industrialist has been sanctioned by both the European Union and the United States.

RPS said Makhlouf transferred billions of dollars to safe havens outside Syria. The group said Makhlouf was believed to have been aided by several allies of Syria.

"Since Mr. Makhlouf has been sanctioned by the United States in 2006 and more recently by the EU, it is highly likely he is heading to a location able to provide protection for the billions he has stashed under fake Syrian, Iranian or Venezuelan passports," RPS said.

RPS did not say why Makhlouf fled Syria. But other opposition sources said senior officials were beginning to fear for their safety, particularly for their families who live outside Damascus.

On June 6, the Assad regime asserted that 80 police and security officers were killed in Jisr Al Shughour, located near the Syrian border with Turkey. The assertion came amid reports that anti-Assad forces were organizing militias to protect towns and cities from regime assaults.

The opposition said close relatives of other senior regime members have also fled Syria. In May, Assad's British-born wife, Asma, left for London in what the opposition speculated was an attempt to prepare for exile.

The flight of the Syrian elite was reported as anti-Assad demonstrations reached unprecedented proportions. On June 4, an estimated 100,000 Syrians called for Assad's ouster amid the killing of up to 120 civilians by security forces.

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