Funeral in Syria.
Funerals in Syria. Photo by AP
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Israeli officials are very skeptical the Syrian government and opposition will stick to the cease-fire that UN envoy Kofi Annan hopes will take hold on Tuesday.

Annan, a former UN general secretary, has been traveling to Syria for several weeks in an attempt to broker a truce between President Bashar Assad and opposition forces, after many months of unrest.

Human rights reports show that more than 100 civilians have been executed so far this year, and the opposition says more than 150 civilians - including 17 children - were killed on Monday alone.

Annan's mission might even have made things worse. By not insisting on Assad's departure, it encouraged his regime to step up its clampdown and set preconditions for accepting a cease-fire.

Damascus says it will withdraw from city centers only if the opposition forces commit in writing to hold their fire, a prerequisite that the opposition has dismissed out of hand.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, witnesses say Assad's soldiers have carried out executions in broad daylight in an attempt to teach others a lesson.

Lip service

Assad probably thinks the international community's efforts will amount to lip service and lax sanctions. As long as a military intervention is off the table, Assad can continue his harsh measures to fight for his survival.

Assad has stepped up measures against the opposition ahead of the implementation of the cease-fire, in a bid to devastate his rivals if the plan fails. But his iron-fist policy has yet to dissuade the Syrian people, and his regime remains far from stable.

Israeli officials say it remains unclear how far Washington will go to help bring about Assad's downfall. They say Syria might become a failed state if the unrest continues, with Hezbollah and Iran on one side and Al-Qaida-inspired Sunnis on the other consolidating footholds.

The consensus in the Israeli intelligence community is that Assad sooner or later will be ousted. "Assad is past the point of no return," says a senior cabinet minister. "He won't be able to restore his position as Syria's undisputed leader. His victory visit to [the restive city of] Homs should be taken with a pinch of salt. Resistance is growing, even in Damascus."

Israeli officials are also concerned about reports showing Syrian weapons falling into Hezbollah's hands, though it is still unclear whether the Shi'ite organization has gotten hold of chemical weapons.