pro-Assad Syria - AP - 1.7.11
Protesters waving their national country flags during a demonstration to show their support for President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, on Friday July 1, 2011. Photo by AP
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Israeli defense officials said in a recent analysis it's just a matter of time before Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime falls. This line echoes comments by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who last month told Haaretz he thought Assad's regime would fall within several months.

Over the past three months, more than 2,000 soldiers unwilling to put down the anti-regime protests throughout the country have deserted the Syrian army, which has been showing major signs of fatigue.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are thought to have taken part in protests last week in Hama, where Assad's father and predecessor Hafez Assad slaughtered tens of thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982.

Last week, the security forces in Hama were ordered not to confront the protesters, which simply increased the demonstrators' audacity.

Protests have also increased recently in the suburbs of Damascus, though the regime has managed to head off demonstrations in the center of the capital. Israeli defense analysts stress the increase in the demonstrations' size and the protesters' greater willingness to risk their lives.

Demonstrations last weekend were among the largest since the protests broke out in late January.

The Syrian regime has killed more than 1,500 civilians, human rights groups say, and about 12,000 people have been arrested. Nonetheless, it appears the regime's opponents have not managed to create a unified leadership.

Assad has tried to soften the opposition via gestures such as legal and economic reforms and the granting of Syrian ID cards to members of the Kurdish minority. He has also increased subsidies on basic foodstuffs.

One extraordinary step for his Alawite regime, which is largely secular, has been to allow female students at universities to wear veils.

For the time being, the Alawite community is supporting Assad, for whom they do not see a replacement within the community.

The protests could lead to a more direct confrontation between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite minority, and the disintegration of the army.