UN team arrives in Syria, Assad to speak on TV

International team to assess humanitarian needs; Syrian president to give 4th televised appearance since uprising erupted 5 months ago.

By REUTERS
August 21, 2011 13:18
2 minute read.
Syrian soldiers man tank (illustrative)

Syrian Tank 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar Assad will give an interview to Syrian television on Sunday, state media said, as a UN team arrived in Damascus to assess humanitarian needs after five months of turmoil.

Assad's interview, only his fourth televised appearance since an uprising erupted against his rule, will address "the current situation in Syria, the reform process and ... implications of the US and Western pressures on Syria politically and economically."

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Assad last spoke in public in June. He said he would introduce reforms within months to address the wave of protests sweeping Syria, but blamed saboteurs for the violence and warned that no deal could be reached with gunmen.

Since then international pressure on him has stepped up, with the United States and European allies calling on him to quit and imposing new sanctions in protest at his crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed around 2,000 civilians.

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Arab states and regional power Turkey have also ratcheted up criticism of Assad after he sent tanks and troops into some of Syria's biggest cities to crush dissent during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on August 1.

Activists said Syrian forces had killed two civilians in house raids in the town of Rastan north of Homs on Saturday. The Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, an activists' organization, said one man was killed in al Hirak in Deraa province when security forces fired at a funeral.

A day earlier, Assad's forces killed 34 people, including four children, in Homs and Deraa, where the popular revolt began in March, as well as in suburbs of Damascus and the ancient desert town of Palmyra, activists said.

Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.

UN team arrives in Syria

A UN team arrived in Syria on Saturday to assess humanitarian needs in the country, a UN official said. The United Nations has sought access for the team since May.

"We welcome the fact that the government has approved the humanitarian mission," said the official.

The team will "assess the humanitarian situation and condition of basic social services and identify initial assistance needs that could be addressed through a rapid response," she added. She did not say which parts of the country the team would visit, but said the mission would continue until Thursday.

UN humanitarian affairs chief Valerie Amos told the UN Security Council on Thursday that the visit must not be a one-time offer and that her team would need unhindered access to all parts of Syria.


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