Pressure Intensifies for Assad To Flee Syria

As Assad reportedly deploys fighter jets, U.S. officials push "safe exit" for Syrian leader

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Amid reports Bashar al-Assad's forces have deployed war planes against rebel elements, a powerful White House ally on Capitol Hill says Washington should broker a deal under which the Syrian president would leave the country.

A BBC reporter embedded with Syrian rebels says regime fighter jets are bombing parts of the city of Aleppo, one day after helicopter gunships were deployed. If true, the use of the war planes would be the beginning of what experts and opposition officials have predicted: a desperate Assad increasing his brutality.

Opposition sources tell U.S. News & World Report they all but have given up hope that the United State, NATO or regional powers will intervene militarily in the civil war, which has claimed over 17,000 lives.

The United States. has flowed some funds to the rebels, and assisted with other items like intelligence data. But opposition sources say Washington has yet to turn over tens of millions of dollars in frozen Assad regime dollars promised to rebel factions months ago. Sources say promised communications gear also has yet to arrive in the hands of opposition fighters.

Saudi Arabia has been supplying opposition forces with weapons, which sources and experts say have helped rebel fighters score a spate of recent victories over Assad's forces.

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But there is little evidence to show those U.S. and Saudi efforts will be enough to definitively tip the balance of the war toward the opposition.

On Monday, the Arab League's secretary general offered a "safe exit" for Assad and his family, withholding details as to where the Assads would be relocated.

Damascus quickly rejected the idea. But Washington clearly supports it.

"We do believe that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition to find a way that ends the violence," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday, according to wire reports. Suggesting a resolution to the year-old civil war could come soon, Clinton said things are "accelerating inside Syria."

Clinton's comments come after her close friend, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, also voiced support for getting Assad out of Syria.

U.S. officials should "work for a safe exit for Assad," Feinstein said during a forum in Washington. The Intelligence Committee chief also is calling on Washington to establish a no-fly zone over Syrian air space, set up a naval blockade of fuel shipments from Iran, and work closer with the Syrian National Council, which she and other U.S. officials say is the most prominent and capable opposition group.

Syrian National Council Spokesperson Radwan Ziadeh says Assad's regime is "genocidal" and will do whatever it deems necessary to remain in power. As for the U.S., Ziadeh said it has "failed in the Syrian crisis."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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