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Assad stalwart bows out in move to placate Syrian protesters

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“The government is now using another set of cards, one that directly addresses the protesters’ demands,” said Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University. “Makhlouf is a symbol of the corruption in the regime.” But, he added, “as a change of heart for the regime, the decision has come too late, and it’s not going to be accepted seriously by protesters.”

Increasingly isolated, Assad appears to be turning closer to his family, the backbone of the regime, the Associated Press reports. His younger brother Maher is perceived to be leading much of the crackdown. He is the commander of the army's 4th division, its best-trained force, as well as several units of the Republican Guard, which is in charge of protecting Damascus.

Security forces took over another northern town on Friday, the Associated Press reported. Most of the residents of Maaret al-Numan, a town of 100,000 along the highway between Damascus and Aleppo, fled ahead of the security forces' arrival.

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