Syrians brush off Assad speech, fighting rages

January 08, 2013 - 3:58:54 am

BEIRUT: Fighting raged across Syria yesterday, including just a few miles from where President Bashar Al Assad had unveiled a “peace plan” that Syrians on both sides said would do nothing to end a 21-month-old uprising.

Hours after Assad addressed cheering loyalists at the Damascus Opera House on Sunday in his first public speech in months, clashes erupted near the road to the city’s international airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The opposition-linked group said artillery hit the district of Arqaba, 5km from the Opera House. Fighting continued all night and into yesterday around the capital, as well as in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, it said.

In central Syria, the towns of Taybet Imam and Halfaya were bombarded with aerial strikes and artillery, said Abu Faisal, an activist speaking over the internet from Taybet Imam.

“Every four to five minutes, we hear the burst from a rocket. We cannot get any wounded out because we are essentially under siege by the shelling,” he said, adding that many civilians had fled. Taybet Imam sits on an entrance to Syria’s main north-south highway, close to the central city of Hama.

The government restricts access by international media and the accounts could not be verified.

Damascus residents said Assad’s speech, which offered no concessions to his foes, was met with celebratory gunfire in pro-Assad neighbourhoods.

But even there, some saw no sign peace was closer: a loyalist resident of southern Damascus said the speech was eloquent but empty.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said that President Bashar Al Assad’s speech setting out his terms for peace would not help end “the terrible suffering” of the Syrian people. “The secretary general was disappointed that the speech by Bashar Al Assad on January 6 does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Ban and UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi believe there has to be a “political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations,” Nesirky added. 

France, the United States, Britain and Turkey all said Assad’s speech, his first to an audience since June last year, showed he had lost touch with reality after unrest that the United Nations says has killed 60,000 people. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused Assad of “directing state terrorism”. The plan described by the Syrian leader as a new peace initiative proposed an army ceasefire only after rebels halt their operations and summoned Syrians to mobilise for a war to defend the state against “a puppet made by the West”.

George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, said the putative peace plan “did not even deserve to be called an initiative” Reuters

YouTube mistakenly closes watchdog channels  

BEIRUT: The popular video hosting website YouTube said yesterday it had mistakenly shut down two accounts of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a key source of information in the 21-month Syria conflict.

“With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make mistakes. When an error is brought to our attention we act quickly to reinstate the videos in question,” a YouTube spokesperson said on condition of anonymity.

YouTube sent the Observatory an email on Sunday that said its channels “syrianhro” and “almrsd” had “violated the policy of the site by publishing shocking and offensive videos,” the Britain-based watchdog said.

The Observatory, which disseminates graphic videos on YouTube of atrocities from the bloody civil war the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people, condemned the closure.

Both channels have now been reinstated.AFP