Syria denies Assad ready to leave power

Information Ministry denies Russian ambassador's statement that Assad ready for transition; intelligence chief dies after bombing.

By REUTERS
July 20, 2012 12:21
4 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad 370 (R). (photo credit: Sana / Reuters)

 
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BEIRUT - Syria's Information Ministry said on Friday that comments by Russia's ambassador to France that Syrian President Bashar Assad has accepted leaving power in an orderly way were "completely devoid of truth".

The ministry statement, flashed on state television, came in response to remarks by Moscow's envoy to Paris who said that by accepting a recent international declaration which foresaw a transition towards a more democratic Syria, Assad had "accepted to leave, but in an orderly way."

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Alexandre Orlov Russia's ambassador to France said on French RFI radio on Friday that "At the Geneva conference, there was a final communique that foresees a transition towards a more democratic system."

"This final communique was accepted by Assad. Assad nominated his representative to lead the negotiations with the opposition for this transition. That means he accepted to leave, but in an orderly way."

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Also Friday, Syrian State television announced that Syria's intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar died of wounds suffered in a bombing on Wednesday which killed three other senior security officials in Assad's inner circle.

The Head of National Security intelligence agency's death was announced as Syria held funeral ceremonies for three other security officials killed in Wednesday's bomb attack - Assad's brother-in-law, his defense minister and a veteran army general.



Rebels seized control of sections of Syria's international borders and torched the main police headquarters in the heart of old Damascus, advancing relentlessly since Wednesday's attack.

The battle for parts of the capital raged into the early hours of Friday, with corpses piled in the streets. In some neighborhoods, residents said there were signs that the government's presence was diminishing.

Officials in neighboring Iraq confirmed that Syrian rebels were now in control of the Syrian side of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway, one of the major trade routes across the Middle East.

Rebels also claimed control of at least two border crossings into Turkey at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus, in what appeared to have been a coordinated campaign to seize Syria's frontiers.

In Damascus, a witness in the central old quarter district of Qanawat said the huge headquarters of the Damascus Province Police was black with smoke and abandoned after being torched and looted in a rebel attack.

"Three patrol cars came to the site and were hit by roadside bombs," said activist Abu Rateb by telephone. "I saw three bodies in one car. Others said dozens of security men and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) lay dead or wounded along Khaled bin al-Walid street, before ambulances took them away."

Coming days critical for Assad regime's future

The next few days will be critical in determining whether Assad's government can recover from the devastating blow of Wednesday's bombing, which wiped out much of Assad's command structure and destroyed his circle's aura of invulnerability.

Assad's powerful brother-in-law, his defense minister and a top general were killed in Wednesday's attack. The head of intelligence and the interior minister were wounded.

Government forces have responded by blasting at rebels in their own capital with helicopter gunships and artillery stationed in the mountains overlooking it.

Assad's failure to appear in public for more than 24 hours - he was finally shown on television on Thursday swearing in a replacement for his slain defense minister - added to the sense of his power evaporating. His whereabouts are not clear.

Diplomatic efforts - rapidly overtaken by events on the ground - collapsed in disarray on Thursday when Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions unless Syrian authorities halted violence. Washington said the council had "failed utterly."

Activists in Damascus said rebels were now in control of the capital's northern Barzeh district, where troops and armored vehicles had pulled out.

The army had also pulled out of the towns of Tel and Dumair north of Damascus after taking heavy losses, they said. But they said troops were hitting the western district of Mezzeh with heavy machine-guns and anti-aircraft guns overnight.

The reports could not be confirmed. The Syrian government restricts access by international journalists.

A resident who toured much of Damascus late on Thursday said he saw signs the government's presence was diminishing, with only sporadic checkpoints and tanks in place in some areas. The Interior Ministry at the main Marjeh Square had a fraction of its usual contingent of guards still in place.

Shelling could be heard on the southwestern suburb of Mouadamiyeh from hills overlooking the city where the Fourth Division, commanded by Assad's brother Maher, is based, he said.

Syrian television showed the bodies of about 20 men in T-shirts and jeans with weapons lying at their sides, sprawled across a road in the capital's Qaboun district. It described them as terrorists killed in battle.

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