Syria Civil War: Bashar al-Assad Reportedly Seeking Asylum in Venezuela

Al Jazeera reports, citing Turkish diplomats, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is exploring the possibility of taking up asylum in Venezuela. Three separate Turkish newspapers have quoted diplomats from Turkey's embassy in Caracas who claim Assad is seeking asylum in Venezuela, adding that Venezuelan officials have corroborated the news. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, along with Iran and Russia, represents one of the few remaining allies Assad has, but is currently being treated in Cuba for cancer.

The Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal al Maqdad, recently returned from a trip to Latin America, and was reportedly in contact with Chavez's administration, but specifically denied that Assad was planning to leave Syria.

This comes of the heels of the latest high level defection from the Syrian regime. The commander of Syria's military police, Lieutenant General Abulaziz al-Shalal, has reportedly fled to Turkey. Shalal is one of the highest ranking officials to leave the regime, and opposition forces claim he has been in contact with them for several months. He said he defected because the Syrian army has transformed into "gangs of murder and destruction." Ironically, one of Shalal's main directives within Assad's administration was preventing high level defections, such as his own. Shalal represents one of the most prominent figures to leave Assad's regime, and his defection is a sign of the decreasing legitimacy of the current Syrian government.

Meanwhile Lakhdar Ibrahimi, the head of the UN envoy seeking a resolution to the conflict in Syria, has called for a transitional government holding all executive powers to be set up in Syria. He did not specify who would head this new government, or what Assad's role in it would be, but said it should hold power until elections could be held. Ibrahimi is currently in Russia, where he has been negotiating with the Syrian ally. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman, however, has said no plans were being discussed to set up a transitional government. Assad's current presidential term lasts until 2014, but Syria is yet to hold free and fair elections.

For its part, Russia has maintained the only way to end the current conflict is for the opposition to negotiate with Assad, which they refuse to do. However, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview Thursday that while the chances for a negotiated solution were "dwindling," they do still exist.