Syria rejects calls for Assad to quit as ‘conspiracy’

SYRIA yesterday rejected European and American calls for president Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying they revealed the “face of the conspiracy” against Damascus.

Despite the regime’s promises this week that it had wrapped up a military offensive against protesters, activists said that security forces killed 29 people on Friday, most of them in the central city of Homs, during anti-government demonstrations.

“Bye-bye Bashar. See you in the Hague,” protesters chanted, referring to the international war crimes tribunal based in the Netherlands.

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“We want revenge against Maher and Bashar,” others shouted, referring to the Syrian leader and his powerful brother, a military commander accused by diplomats and residents of attacking cities and cracking down on pro-democracy protests.

The Syrian leader has come under mounting criticism for his assault on the five-month-old uprising. The US and its European allies on Thursday demanded Assad step down because of the crackdown, which rights groups say has killed at least 2,000 people.

The regime, however, has pushed ahead with its offensive despite the criticism.

Syrian forces yesterday fired machine guns at a residential district in Homs after protests against Assad. The military offensive has focused on Homs, the coastal city of Latakia, the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, and the central flashpoint city of Hama. In an amateur video posted online and said to have been taken in Hama, Syrian soldiers kick and slap four male detainees sitting handcuffed next to a desert road. One of the men could be heard telling the officers beating him: “If you have a picture of me or if anyone says I took part in a demonstration then slaughter me. Cut me to pieces.”

The soldiers then kick the men in the face and heads as they beg for mercy.

The continuation of the crackdown, despite Assad’s assurances it had ended, suggests he is either unwilling to stop the violence, or not fully in control of his own regime.

Yesterday’s comments are the first official response from the Syrian government to the US and European demands for Assad to step down.

The daily Al-Thawra newspaper, which speaks for the Syrian regime, rejected the calls and any kind of foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs, saying Damascus “will never permit anyone to do that”.

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It also accused the West of trying to sideline Damascus from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which it said is a strategic aim for Israel, Washington and Europe. Syria is a major player in the Arab-Israeli conflict and is in a state of war with the Jewish state. Syria is also Iran’s strongest ally in the Arab world and supports Islamic militant groups like Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A high-level UN team recommended on Thursday that the violence in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court over possible crimes against humanity.

On Friday, the UN released the full text of its report on the crackdown.It said Syrian government forces may have committed crimes against humanity by conducting summary executions, torturing prisoners and targeting children.