Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Tuesday to strike “terrorists” with an iron
fist and derided Arab League efforts to halt violence in a 10-month-old revolt
against his rule.
The president’s 100-minute speech, his first televised
address since June, contained some promises of reform but no sweeping
concessions that might placate an opposition now determined to end more than
four decades of domination by the Assad family.
Assad offered a
referendum on a new constitution in March before a multiparty parliamentary
election that has been much postponed. Under the present constitution, Assad’s
Ba’ath party is designated as “the leader of the state and society.” But the
Syrian leader gave no sign that he was willing to relinquish the power he
inherited on his father’s death in 2000.
“I am not someone who abandons
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Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian
National Council, has urged the Arab League to refer Syria to the United Nations
The League seems divided over such a step, which in the
case of Libya led to a UN resolution that NATO used as the basis for an air
campaign that helped rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia and China have
opposed any move at the Council against Syria, while Western powers have not
advocated military action in a country located in the volatile heart of the
Damascus’s former ally Turkey, as well as several European
Union states and the US, have all called for Assad to resign, but US President
Barack Obama has come under criticism for waiting six months to call for the
Syrian leader’s exit.
Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel and
assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said he would have liked to
see earlier action from Washington, but rejected charges the administration had
abandoned the Syrian people to the regime’s brutality.
“The US has been
leading efforts, particularly with the Europeans, to sanction Syria,” he said at
a conference Tuesday at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in response to a
question from The Jerusalem Post
“In the case of Libya, the president
had demanded early that Gaddafi step down, but was unwilling – I think correctly
– to take the lead in getting rid of him. So a gap opened up between the
president’s rhetoric and what he was willing to do,” said Indyk, now director of
foreign policy at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
president came under considerable criticism for talking a good game but then
‘leading from behind,’” he said. “So when it came to dealing with Syria, he was
reluctant to get out in front when a decision had been made not to intervene
militarily. If we call for his overthrow, how would we achieve it?”
latest bloodshed Tuesday, Syrian forces shot 10 people dead, most of
anti-Assad protesters, in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, the
opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Gunfire from a
checkpoint also killed
a man in Homs, it added.
Authorities have barred most independent media
from Syria, making it hard to verify accounts by activists or
Assad made scathing remarks about the Arab League, which has
sent monitors to check Syria’s compliance with an Arab peace plan after
suspending it from the 22-member body in November.
“The Arab League has
failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest,” he
The League condemned an attack on Monday in which 11 of its
monitors were hurt by demonstrators in the port city of Latakia, saying Syria
had breached its obligation to protect them.
The bloc said the mission
had been attacked by pro-Assad demonstrators there and in Deir al-Zor and by
opposition protesters in other areas.
According to a source at the
mission’s operations room in Cairo, angry protesters in Latakia broke the glass
of the monitors’ vehicles, causing light injuries, although no one was admitted
to the hospital.
“The monitors were thumped and beaten, which resulted in
one monitor’s mouth bleeding and bruises to the faces of four others,” the
source told Reuters.
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh
Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: “Unfortunately there have been attacks on
monitors, especially those from [Gulf] countries, attacks from non-opposition
“The task of the monitors is getting more difficult every day
because we do not see a decline in... killings,” he said.
Syria said it
was continuing to provide security for the observers and condemned any act that
obstructed their work.
While opting to keep the mission going at least
until January 19, the League said on Sunday that Syria had not fully implemented
an agreement to stop violence, withdraw troops from cities, free prisoners,
provide media access and open a political dialogue.
say the monitors have failed to stem the bloodshed, but Russia, an old ally of
Assad’s government, said on Tuesday the mission had a stabilizing
Assad complained Syria was the target of a relentless foreign media
campaign. Blaming unrest on “outside planning,” he said: “The outside now
regrettably includes Arabs.”
Despite the persistent upheaval in Syria,
where an insurgency is growing alongside civilian demonstrations, Assad’s
security forces seem to retain the upper hand for now.
opposition, riven by factional tensions, has yet to form a widely accepted
The UN says Syria’s crackdown on unrest has
killed more than 5,000 people. Syrian authorities blame armed Islamists they say
have killed 2,000 security force members.
Despite the high casualty toll,
Assad denied any policy to shoot demonstrators.
“There is no cover for
anyone. There are no orders for anyone to open fire on any citizen,” he
Nevertheless, his priority was to restore order, which could only
be achieved by “hitting terrorists with an iron fist.”
Ghalioun, the SNC
leader, called Assad’s speech dangerous because he had “insisted on using
violence against our people, considered the revolution a terrorist conspiracy
and thus undercut any Arab or non- Arab initiative to find a political solution
to the crisis.”
The struggle in Syria, Iran’s only Arab ally, has alarmed
its neighbors. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a
former-friend-turned-critic of Assad, warned on Monday that Syria was “heading
toward a religious, sectarian, racial war.”
The Dogan news agency
reported a Turkish provincial governor saying customs officials had intercepted
four trucks on Tuesday suspected of carrying military equipment from Iran to
Syria after police received information about their cargo.