Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar AssadIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Sometime after midnight on Thursday, last week, a heavily guarded convoy departed Damascus under cover of darkness for a secure airfield north of the Syrian capital.

According to the Hebrew-daily Yisrael Hayom the convoy carried the three children of Bashar and Asma Assad as they seek asylum in Europe.

According to the Egyptian daily al-Masry Hayom, a senior Egyptian diplomat said the convoy also included Assad's mother, Inessa, and the children of other members of the Syrian President's inner circle, including those of billionaire Rami Makhlouf.

Rebels who saw the convoy understood it could only be carrying high profile individuals associated with the regime and staged an attack.

According to Egyptian reports the convoy broke through to the airfield, from which a plane  took off from an airport to an unspecified Muslim country, probably Sudan or Yemen, before reportedly departing for Europe.

A report in Britain's Daily Mail said a convoy was forced to turn back to Damascus under withering fire earlier in the week.

It is unclear which European country may have extended asylum to Hafez, 11, Zane, 9, and Karim, 7. Analysts say Asma Assad holds Bitish citizenship, but doubt the United Kingdom was the destination due to the large community of Syrian expatriates who might target the family there.

Most information about the escape of Assad's children has come from the Egyptian Intelligence Service (GIS), and Syrian military intelligence (DS), which is commanded by Assad's brother-in-law General Assef Shawqat. He is considered one of the strongest and most influential people in Assad's regime.

Egyptian officials say Asma Assad remains with her husband, but insisted the children be spirited away to safety in the event the increasingly unstable regime falls. But security officials in both Egypt and Syria believe Asma could join her children within the week.

The timing of Assad's escape is significant according to Egyptian officials. According to al-Masry Hayom the decision was made shortly before last weekend’s Security Council meeting. Assad reportedly believed - and in retrospect was mistaken - that the Security Council would close Syrian airspace, making his family's escape impossible.

However, some security analysts say recent comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling for the formation of a coalition like the one that supported rebels in Syria, as well as rumors Turkey might intervene, were also likely factors in the decision.

According to Egyptian security sources, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited Damascus on Tuesday offered to grant asylum to Assad and his family on condition that the Syrian president step down and transfer his powers to his deputy, Farouk Ash-Shara, but that offer was rejected.