Jordanian King warns Syria is heading for a break-up

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (left) meets with President Obama at the White House on Thursday.

U.S. and Jordanian officials familiar with Abdullah’s congressional briefings said the monarch was particularly concerned about the growing dominance of al-Qaeda-aligned Islamist militants. Jordanian officials warned that the Islamists could be a destabilizing force in the region for years and could even come to power in some provinces if the country breaks apart.

Despite the failure of previous initiatives, the king urged a renewed attempt at a negotiated settlement as the only realistic path toward ending the conflict without splintering the country or condemning it to endless bloodshed. But he has acknowledged that such a settlement would not be acceptable to the rebels as long as President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

A more immediate worry for Jordan is the burden of caring for more than a half-million Syrian refugees who have sought sanctuary there since the start of the conflict two years ago. The king has asked for $850 million in new U.S. aid this year to help Jordan cope with the flood of refugees that threatens to overwhelm the kingdom, a resource-poor country of 6 million that already was struggling with high unemployment, chronic water shortages and energy-supply disruptions before the crisis began.

Jordan’s largest Syrian refugee camp, known as Zaatari, has swollen to 125,000 inhabitants, making it essentially Jordan’s fifth-largest city. By the end of the year, the number of refugees in Jordan is projected to surpass 1 million, straining the capacity of the country’s schools and hospitals.

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