Syria: Damascus burns as UN again fails to agree on Assad’s fate
SYRIAN president Bashar al-Assad yesterday made his first appearance since a bomb attack killed three members of his inner circle, while his troops launched a wide-ranging assault to snuff out rebels throughout the capital Damascus.
Anti-government activists said regime troops used mortars, tanks and helicopter gunships against rebels across Damascus and its suburbs. But the military’s failure to swiftly vanquish lightly armed rebel forces and the deadly bombing of a high-level security meeting a day earlier made Mr Assad’s hold on power look more tenuous.
Amateur video showed rebels taking over the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, where they stamped on portraits of Mr Assad and his father, Hafez.
The whereabouts of Mr Assad, his wife and three children have been a mystery since the attack that killed three top regime officials, including his brother-in-law and defence minister.
Yesterday a brief state TV report showed Mr Assad dressed in a suit and tie and swearing-in his new defence minister.
Thousands of Syrians streamed across the border into Lebanon, fleeing as fighting in Damascus entered its fifth day, witnesses said. Residents near the Masnaa crossing point – about 25 miles from the capital – said hundreds of private cars as well as taxis and buses were ferrying people across.
Syrian TV confirmed the deaths of defence minister Dawoud Rajha, 65; General Assef Shawkat, 62, the deputy defence minister who is married to Mr Assad’s elder sister, Bushra, and is one of the most feared figures in the inner circle; and Hassan Turkmani, 77, a former defence minister who died in hospital.
Rebels claimed responsibility, saying they targeted the room where the security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were meeting. Major General Robert Mood, the Norwegian head of nearly 300 unarmed UN observers in Syria, condemned the violence and encouraged a diplomatic solution, which appears increasingly out of reach.
“It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria,” Maj Gen Mood said in Damascus. Hours later, China and Russia vetoed a new UK-written UN Security Council resolution on Syria’s crisis – reflecting divisions with the West on who is responsible for Syria’s crisis and how to stop it.
The resolution would have imposed non-military sanctions against Mr Assad’s regime if it didn’t withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within ten days. It was tied to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which could allow the use of force to end the conflict.
Foreign Secretary William Hague attacked the vetos as “inexcusable”. “When it came for the time to turn agreement that they have supported into action to end the violence they stood aside. They have turned their back on the people of Syria in their darkest hour,” he said.
Russia and China oppose any moves that put the blame exclusively on Mr Assad or could pave the way for foreign military intervention in Syria.
The 11-2 vote, with two abstentions, leaves in limbo the future of the 300-person UN monitoring team in Syria, whose mandate expires today.
In Damascus, regime forces fired heavy machine guns and mortars in battles with rebels in a number of neighbourhoods, the UK-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
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