World and Nation

Syrian official hopes seven-week protests are near an end

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government has gained the upper hand over a seven-week uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad, a senior official declared Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the leadership believes its crackdown will crush protests that have begun to falter in the face of hundreds of deaths and mass arrests.

The remarks by Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Assad who often serves as an official spokeswoman, suggested that a government accustomed to adapting in the face of crises was prepared to weather international condemnation and sanctions. Her confidence came in stark contrast to just two weeks ago, when the government appeared to stagger before the breadth and resilience of protests in dozens of towns and cities.

“I hope we are witnessing the end of the story,” she said in an hour-long interview, for which a reporter was allowed in Syria for a few hours. “I think now we’ve passed the most dangerous moment. I hope so, I think so.”

Her comments were a rare window on the thinking of a government that has barred most foreign journalists from Syria since the beginning of the uprising, which has threatened 40 years of rule by the Assad family. While much of the world has viewed the unrest as a popular demand for sweeping change in one of the region’s most authoritarian countries, Shaaban cast it as an armed uprising, a characterization the government has relied on to justify a ferocious crackdown.

That crackdown intensified Monday on the outskirts of Damascus and in three other towns and cities, with security forces raiding hundreds of houses and arresting men between the ages of 18 and 45, human rights groups and activists said.

The military has deployed tanks in Baniyas, on the Mediterranean coast; Homs in central Syria, near the Lebanese border; and Tafas, in a restive region in the south, they said.