Syria will hold free, public parliamentary elections by the end of this year,
the country’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
Walid Moallem said the
elections would be one step in the reforms unveiled by embattled President
Bashar Assad in a June speech aimed at dampening a nationwide anti-government
uprising, now approaching its fifth month.
:United States urges its citizens to leave Syria
immediately'Dozens killed in Hama as Syrian tanks, snipers
Also Saturday, a pan-Arab
newspaper based in London reported that a lieutenant in the Syrian Army said he
had been ordered to command his soldiers to indiscriminately fire at civilians –
including women and children – in the flashpoint southern city of
“I, along with other officers, was ordered by our commanders to
commit genocide in Deraa and was told not to spare women and children,” Ahmed
Khalaf told Asharq al- Awsat newspaper.
Khalaf said he had secretly told
his soldiers not to fire on anyone, but was discovered and put under house
arrest before fleeing the country to an undisclosed location.
Sunni officers have been jailed nationwide for refusing to fire on civilians,
and 4,500 soldiers have defected in the Damascus area alone, he said.
report comes after an escalated crackdown on anti-regime protesters in the
central city of Hama killed an estimated 200 people last week.
day Syrian security forces killed at least 18 protesters in attacks aimed at the
tens of thousands of protesters who poured into the streets to demonstrate on
the first Friday of Ramadan.
Western diplomatic pressure on Assad
continues to mount. US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed on Friday to consider further steps
to pressure Damascus, the White House said, and Obama held separate phone calls
on the crisis with each of the European leaders. Each of the leaders condemned
the Syrian government’s “indiscriminate violence against the Syrian people,” the
They also agreed to “consider additional steps to
pressure the Assad regime and support the Syrian people,” though the statement
did not elaborate on any measures under consideration.
On Thursday, US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad’s government was responsible for
more than 2,000 deaths since protests began in March.
the United States believes Assad has lost legitimacy in Syria, and said the US
and its allies are working on strategies to apply more pressure beyond new
sanctions announced on Thursday.
Washington extended sanctions – the
fourth round yet – to include a prominent Syrian businessman and member of
parliament whom it said was a front for the interests of Assad and his powerful
Earlier last week, US envoy to Syria Robert Ford told a
Senate confirmation hearing that Assad was consistently using “constant
brutality” and “atrocious torture” against unarmed civilians. But experts said
it remained unclear whether that stronger rhetoric actually reflects a changed
US policy toward Damascus.
“I think Ford was very much in line with
administration policy – or at least administration rhetoric,” said Elliott
Abrams, a Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Thursday in
response to a question from The Jerusalem Post during a media conference call.
“And the rhetoric changed because the situation on the ground keeps getting
worse and the administration keeps getting hit in the major newspapers, for
example The New York Times and Washington Post... I think the question is
whether in addition to the rhetoric changing, the policy will
Robert Danin, also a Middle East fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations, added, “The administration wanted to give the Assad regime an
out, but it didn’t comply. So I think the position has changed, and the
administration has come to a place where it says ‘This regime has no future and
there’s nothing that can be done with it.’ But I think it tried to give the
Syrian regime an out, largely because our own tools are very
The only thing the administration hasn’t done is actually call
for Assad to go, but I don’t think that option is so important at this point.
What’s important now is what we do rather than which word formulation we
Danin also referred to the Palestinian Authority’s expected bid for
recognition of unilaterally declared statehood at the UN next month, and the
potential for Syriansupported protests on Israel’s borders.
living in Syria marched on Israel’s borders in May and June to mark Arab losses
in the 1948 and 1967 wars.
“It seems the choice to deploy Palestinian
refugees to the border actually proved counterproductive and
They did it twice, both on Nakba Day and Naksa Day, and there
was a backlash within Syria,” he said from Washington.
angry, saying, ‘Why did you send us to our deaths, unarmed and without
protection?’ So we’ve seen the Syrian government back off from that
“But with this regime one can’t rely on it to act in its own best
interests or wisely.
I wouldn’t expect something similar in September,
but this regime could miscalculate and do something really
stupid.”Reuters contributed to this report.