Barak - AP - March 24, 2011
Defense Minister Ehud Barak Photo by AP
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of force against his own people is precipitating his downfall, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday, adding that Israel should not fear change in Damascus.

"I believe Assad is approaching the moment in which he will lose his authority. The growing brutality is pushing him into a corner, the more people are killed, the less chance Assad has to come out of it," Barak told Channel 10 television.

"I don't think Israel should be alarmed by the possibility of Assad being replaced. The process taking place in the Middle East holds great promise and inspiration in the long term for our children and grandchildren," he said.

Israeli officials have previously kept quiet about the uprising in Syria and local media had reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told ministers not to discuss the matter in public to avoid accusations of interference.

Human rights groups say at least 560 civilians have been killed by Assad's security forces since an uprising in the southern city of Deraa erupted on March 18.

The Syrian government, condemned by the West for its repression of the unrest, has blamed the violence on "armed terrorist groups". The country of 20 million people has been under authoritarian Baath Party rule since 1963.

Barak said change across the Middle East was ending autocratic regimes but would take time to produce stable democracies. "In the short term no-one is expecting Western democracies to emerge here," he said.

Barak said that even if Assad ordered troops to stop using force to quell the demonstrations it was probably too late for him to cling to power for an extended period.

"If he stops killing people I can't see faith being restored in him. I don't know if he will end his role in a month or two months, he may recover but I don't think he will be the same and I think his fate is going in the same direction as that of other
Arab leaders," Barak said.

Unlike Egypt, Syria has never made peace with Israel following a 1973 war, but it has stuck rigorously to its disengagement commitments, establishing a security status quo that has suited both sides down the years.

Syria also backs two of Israel'ss most active enemies - Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule the Gaza Strip.