Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Syria: Assad pledges reform as siege of Homs continues - live updates

Syria: Assad pledges reform as siege of Homs continues - live updates
• Bombardment of Homs continues for a fifth day
• US says it won't arm Free Syrian Army
• Russia calls for an Arab solution to the crisis
Posted by
Matthew Weaver

Here's a summary of events so far today.

The Syrian Army has continued to bombard the central city of Homs, where a doctor claimed 25 people were killed in a sustained attack involving hundreds of rockets. The Syrian government continues to blame the violence on armed terrorist gangs. It reported that a car bomb had killed civilians and members of the security forces in a north-west district of the city.

• The former opposition stronghold of Zabadani is being pounded by hundreds of tanks, an activist in the city told the Guardian. There were also unverified activist reports of army raids on Taseel, in the southern province of Deraa, and on Douma, a suburb of Damascus. 

Turkey has proposed hosting an international conference on Syria. Speaking ahead of talks in Washington, foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it would be naive to believe president Assad's promises of reforms and pledges to end the violence. 

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict "independently". David Cameron accused China and Russia of setting themselves against world opinion, by vetoing a UN resolution calling for a political transition in Syria. 

The White House has said it is not planning to arm the opposition in Syria, amid reports that US officials have not ruled out some form military intervention. A new poll found that the majority of people in Britain are against military intervention in Syria, but would favour a no-fly zone. 

The UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, has expressed her exasperation at the failure of the international community to stop the assault in Homs. The humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières has compiled evidence of a campaign of repression against people wounded in demonstrations and the medical workers trying to treat them.

3.23pm: Russia has to "look at its conscience" following its veto of the UN resolution calling on Syria's president to quit, David Cameron said today according to PA.
Speaking in the Commons, Cameron said:

Frankly, Russia and China set themselves against Arab opinion and world opinion in passing what would have been a strong and good UN resolution.

What we now need to see, and Britain will be playing a big part in this, is real engagement with the opposition groups both inside and outside Syria - bringing together the strongest possible international alliance through a contact group so that we can co-ordinate our efforts with respect to getting rid of this dreadful regime and then making sure with the EU and other bodies we continue with the sanctions and pressure.

I think the bloodshed in Syria is absolutely appalling. I think the Russians have to look at their consciences and realise what they have done.

But the rest of the world will keep on fighting as hard as it can to give the Syrian people a chance to choose their own future.

3.12pm: It is unclear whether the president of the opposition Syrian National Council Burhan Ghalioun has resigas the Guardian and others reported on Tuesday
@ian_black Ian, I spoke with Radwan Ziadeh just now. He says Ghalioun isn't out as prez. 

2.55pm: Shashank Joshi an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, takes issue with the Guardian's Seumas Milne after he argued that military intervention in Syria would escalate the crisis.

In a Telegraph blogpost, Joshi wirtes:
Milne thinks that external pressure and negotiations lie at opposite ends of the policy spectrum. In fact, the pattern of the Syrian government's persistent brutality and superficial reforms means that arm-twisting is the only way to bring about the credible settlement that Milne claims to want. Assad has now promised that a new constitution is forthcoming. The idea that the referendum for this can be freely and fairly held under conditions of civil war is laughable, as is the notion that Assad has any incentive to negotiate in good faith whilst squatting under a Russian diplomatic shield .

Milne's suffocating "anti-imperialist" worldview leads to a deeply unpleasant moral equivalence between a reluctantly militarising opposition and unyielding regime. This leads to some absurd conclusions

. Such as the idea that poor, misunderstood Russia is simply protecting itself from Western depredations. "Russian officials have privately assured opposition leaders that the quarrel is with the US, not them," Milne tells us. That's a relief, then. Those being slaughtered in Homs don't know how lucky they are.

2.41pm: The Syrian authorities must re-establish the neutrality of healthcare facilities following the attack on hospitals, patients and staff, the humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières has demanded.

Activists claim hospitals were targeted in the current assaults on Homs and Zabadani. 

MSF president Marie-Pierre Allié said:
In Syria today, wounded patients and doctors are pursued and risk torture and arrest at the hands of the security services. Medicine is being used as a weapon of persecution.

It is critical that the Syrian authorities re-establish the neutrality of healthcare facilities.

Hospitals must be protected are]as, where wounded patients are treated without discrimination and are safe from abuse and torture, and where medical workers do not risk their lives by choosing to comply with their professional code of ethics.

In a strongly-worded statement she urged the international community "to cut through the politics and take effective action to protect the Syrian population". She also reminded world leaders of the responsibility to protect civilians from crimes against humanity. 

Pillay said:
I am appalled by the Syrian Government's wilful assault on Homs, and its use of artillery and other heavy weaponry in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas in the city. The failure of the Security Council to agree on firm collective action appears to have fueled the Syrian Government's readiness to massacre its own people in an effort to crush dissent.

In the past eleven months, since the start of the brutal Government crackdown on largely 

peaceful protests in Syria, thousands of Syrian protestors and civilians have been killed, injured, detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared. 

All evidence points to the involvement of the Syrian army and security forces in the perpetration of most of these crimes. In light of their nature and scale, they may constitute crimes against humanity, punishable under international law. Those in command should, however, remember that there is no statute of limitations for serious international crimes, and there will be a sustained effort for as long as it takes to bring justice to all those who have been victims of the gross and systematic crimes taking place in Syria today.
At their 2005 Summit, World leaders unanimously agreed that each individual State has the responsibility to protect its population from crimes against humanity and other international crimes. They also agreed that when a State is manifestly failing to protect its population from serious international crimes, the international community as a whole has the responsibility to step in by taking protective action in a collective, timely and decisive manner. The virtual carte blanche now granted to the Syrian Government betrays the spirit and the word.
2.06pm: The former opposition stronghold of Zabadani, 20 miles north-west of Damascus, is being pounded by hundreds of tanks, an opposition activist in the town told the Guardian.
Last month Zabadani was effectively liberated by the Free Syrian Army, Ian Black reported from the town last month.
Now activist Fares Mohamad claimed the army is on the brink of retaking the city. Speaking to my colleague Mona Mahmood, via satellite phone Mohamad said: "There are about 300 tanks besieging the city from four positions. But I saw so many tanks I couldn't count them."
"They have been firing shells since last Saturday," he said above the sound of mortars.
Yesterday they fired cluster bombs. Seventy people have critical injuries and there are 18 martyrs so far.
More than 40 houses have been demolished because of the attack. More than 300 people have light injuries. We have set up a field hospital, in the basement of a house, but we don't have any medical equipment.
There are also many people who have gone missing.
More 1,200 families have left for Bloudan [to the east of Zabadani]. We don't have any gas or fuel or communications. This is the only working telephone that we have in the town.
The Free Syrian Army are in Zabadani, but they can't stop the shelling. If you have mortars coming from tanks, what can you do? All they [the military defectors] have are light weapons. They can fight soldiers face-to-face, but they cannot fight tanks.
They are resisting but they don't have enough weapons to stop tanks.
The Syrian Army keeps attacking the town, but until now we don't know if they will control it, because the attack is still going on.
At the start of the assault the first targets were the fire station and the hospital. They didn't want the fire brigade to put out the fires or the hospital to treat the injured. They are now shelling residential districts.
Mohamad is a member of the opposition Local Co-ordination Committee in Syria. His account cannot be independently verified.
It claimed the bomb was detonated in the north-east district of al-Bayyada.
The report cannot be independently verified.
1.16pm: The majority of Britons are opposed to any kind of military intervention in Syria, but a large percentage would support the enforcement of a no-fly zone, according to a YouGov Poll.
Here are the headline findings:
• 66% oppose sending British allied troops into Syria to help overthrow President Bashar al-Assad; 9% support it, 24% don't know
• 60% support a no-fly zone over Syria to stop the Syrian air force from attacking rebels or civilians; 18% oppose, 22% don't know
• 55% oppose the idea of providing arms to civilian rebels; 16% support it, 28% don't know
• 60% oppose the idea of sending British allied troops into Syria to protect civilians from attack; 18% support it, 22% don't know
It says Itar Tass news agency quoted him saying:
We should not act like a bull in a china shop. We have to give people a chance to make decisions about their destiny independently, to help, to give advice, to put limits somewhere so that the opposing sides would not have a chance to use arms, but not to interfere.
AP also confirms EU plans to impose further sanctions on Syria.
12.14pm: The White House has insisted that it was not planning to arm the opposition in Syria (as we noted earlier).
One of the senior US officials called the effort a "scoping exercise" to see what capabilities
are available given other U.S. military commitments in the region.
Both officials pointed out that this type of planning exercise is typical for the Pentagon, which would not want to be in the position of not having options for the president, if and when they are asked for.
It would be Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, who would provide details on what U.S. military assets are available, what missions they could perform if asked, and what risks U.S. forces might face.
"The Pentagon is closely monitoring developments in Syria. It wouldn't be doing its job if it didn't put some ideas on the table," one of the senior U.S. officials told CNN. "But absolutely no decisions have been made on military support for Syria."
11.43am: A doctor in Homs has made an emotional video appeal for international help in a makeshift field hospital filled with the dead bodies of some of the latest victims of the assault on the Baba Amr [warning: graphic content].
Speaking in a blood-stained medical gown above the sound of shooting Dr Muhammad Al-Muhammad said:
Listen to the shooting outside. Believe me, it has been going on since 5am this morning. There have been more than 200 rockets within three hours. This is a very miserable situation.
We have 25 martyrs within the last three hours. Where is the Red Crescent?
Muhammad, who has appeared in number of videos since the assault started, said he could not save the victims who appeared to have been shot in the head. According to a translation by my colleague Mona Mahmood, the doctor added:
We can't do anything for them. We are treating them in homes. Look a bullet in the head ... I call upon all the honest people of the world. I call upon Erdogan in Turkey. I call upon Emir Hamad of Qatar. I call upon King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. I call upon all the Muslims in the world to put pressure on Bashar, the monster. Put pressure on the Assad family.
I call upon the Red Cross and the Red Crescent to intervene. I call upon all humanitarian organisations. We now only have God to help us. We can't do any thing for these martyrs.
11.08am: Attention is shifting from Russia to Turkey.
While Turkish foreign minister Davutoglu is heading to Washington, prime minister Erdogan is due to discuss the Syria crisis with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, Reuters reports.
10.41am: "Where's freakin UN? Why isn't anyone helping us?" Homs activist Danny Abdul Dayem asks in another video appeal from Baba Amr.
Just as he was speaking the sound of more shelling could be heard.
Once again the footage cannot be independently verified. The BBC's Paul Wood, who is close to the city, reports claims that today's bombardment has been the heaviest yet.
We've just managed to get through to people inside, the people in whose house we were staying.They says that this morning there began the heaviest bombardment that they have seen yet in three or four days of shelling and mortar attacks.
There are a lot of wild rumours flying around about casualties. People are saying there are already more dead in that particular part of Homs than they saw yesterday or the day before.
There's no way to verify that but they say that the shell and mortar impacts are coming more rapidly than at any time before.
They are also afraid that ground troops are going to come in at some point. On Tuesday, there were tanks about 800m away from the particular part of Homs we were in, not moving forward but using their heavy machine guns to pour fire in the direction of people who support the uprising.
New footage purported to show tanks operating in the city today.
Yesterday Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said president Assad was walking down "a dead-end street", the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
He also confirmed plans for a "new initiative" on Syria to run in parallel with the formation of the British backed "friends of democratic Syria".
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu will discuss the crisis with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Washington, Hurriyet added.
10.01am: The EU is considering a new round of sanctions against the Assad regime, our Brussels correspondent Ian Traynor has been told.
Eu pondering new Syria sanctions by end month. central bank asset freeze, precious metals import ban, air traffic ban all possible
Any talk of military intervention is not on the agenda.
Syria is not Libya - senior Brussels official. Military options excluded
Its secular leadership, which includes veterans of the old Damascus Declaration group, is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, some Kurds and others.
Burhan Ghalioun
Its president, Burhan Ghalioun (pictured) a respected Paris-based political scientist, was forced to step down on Monday after mounting criticism of his abilities and tactics.
Hopes for a more unified political opposition faded in December after an agreement announced between the SNC and the National Co-ordination Bureau, a Syria-based coalition headed by the veteran leftist Hassan Abdel-Azim, fell apart almost immediately amidst angry recriminations. The failure at the UN last weekend seemed to demolish the SNC's strategy of depending on Arab and western diplomacy. The NCB opposes any outside intervention.
9.24am: Activists in Homs continue to broadcast live footage of the city's skyline, via the live streaming site Bambuser.

At the time of writing the scene appeared largely calm, but there are regular sounds of gun fire and explosions.
9.08am: Danny Abdul Dayem, a Syrian activist who was spent time in Britain, has recorded another video appeal from the Baba Amr district of Homs [warning: graphic content].
Speaking beside the body of a dead infant in a field hospital he said: "This child lost his brains. A bomb landed in his house... is this what the UN is waiting for?"
8.43am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. The focus continues to be Syria where the accounts and images emerging from the city of Homs get ever grimmer. The Syrian Army's bombardment of the city has entered its fifth day despite a fresh pledge by president Bashar al-Assad to end the violence.
Here's a roundup of the latest developments:
Armoured forces loyal to president Assad killed at least 47 civilians as they thrust into Homs on Wednesday, firing rockets and mortar rounds to subdue opposition districts, activists said, Reuters reports. Tanks entered the Inshaat neighbourhood and moved closer to Baba Amr district in the central Syrian city. "We counted 47 killed since midnight," activist Mohammad Hassan said by satellite phone.
A clip from activists purports to show a residential tower block being hit by a missile.
Russia has put itself at the centre of efforts to resolve the deepening Syrian crisis, calling for an "Arab solution" to the uprising against the Assad regime. Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, flew to Damascus to hear Assad pledge a referendum on a new constitution and request that Arab League monitors – withdrawn last month – return to Syria. Assad promised to "stop violence regardless of where it may come from". But the regime's actions belied this statement.
Residents inside Homs claim they are under "genocidal attack" from a Syrian regime apparently deaf to international opinion and determined to "bomb, starve and shoot" them into submission. They said Syrian army tanks had encircled opposition-held suburbs, in preparation for what they feared was a final, deadly ground assault.
 Assad was advised that the "American psyche can be easily manipulated" when he was preparing for a television interview with ABC's Barbara Walters in December, according to leaked emails reported to have come from within the Syrian regime. In an insight into the contempt shown for international public opinion by those advising the Syrian leader, one of his media aides suggested "the American audience doesn't really care about reforms. They won't understand it and they are not interested to do so".
Arab and western governments scrabbling to find strategies to deal with the crisis in Syria are considering ways to strengthen opposition to the president, Bashar al-Assad, including supporting the Free Syrian Army. But western diplomats and analysts warn that sharp divisions in opposition ranks, the strength of the Assad regime and the difficulty of mounting covert operations all pose serious further problems.
Seumas Milne
If the opposition can't shoot its way to power and the regime doesn't implode, the only way out of deepening civil war is a negotiated political settlement leading to genuine elections. To stand any chance of success, that would now need to be guaranteed by the main powers in the region and beyond. The alternative of western and Gulf-dictator intervention could only lead to far greater bloodshed – and deny Syrians control of their own country.

We are not considering that step right now. We are exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians and we are working with our partners, again, to ratchet up the pressure, ratchet up the isolation on Assad and his regime. We're seeing a lot of indications of a lack of control over the country by the regime, of interest by senior officials within the military and the government in separating themselves from the regime. So we believe that that pressure is having an impact.
Asked about Lavrov's visit to Damascus, Carney said:

We're not sure what the goals of his visit are. But the point we're making is that Russia must realize that betting everything on Assad is a recipe for failure -- not just for Russia's interests in Syria, but for the stability of the region and for Syria's future. And I would just reemphasize what I said in response to the earlier question.

Western government are anxious to avoid a regional war, he says.
The Iranian parliament has taken the unprecedented step of summoning president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to answer a series of questions over the government's handling of the economy and his personal judgements. Earlier this month, representatives of Ahmadinejad had met MPs in an attempt to address their concerns about the president. But Mostafa Reza Hosseini, a spokesman for the MPs, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that they "had not been convinced by the answers", resulting in their summoning the president, in a motion signed by 79 of Iran's 290 MPs.

The authorities in Bahrain have freed two human rights activists, ahead of planned protest to mark the first anniversary of crushed pro-democracy uprising, the BBC reports. Fadheela al-Mubarak was freed on Monday, nearly a year after she was arrested for listening to what was called "revolutionary music" in a car. The other activist was Naser al-Raas, a Kuwait-born Canadian citizen who was serving a five-year term for breaking Bahrain's illegal-assembly laws.

Opposition activists say tanks are pushing deeper into residential areas before feared final ground assault
Syrian siege of Homs is genocidal, say trapped residents Tuesday 7 February: events in Syria as they happenedSearch for Syria strategy focuses on stiffening fragmented opposition 'Syrian uprising has sparked proxy regional war' - video Homs bombardment resumes as Russian minister heads to Syria Interactive: Homs under fireUS embassy in Syria closes amid security fears – video 'Friends of Syria' should unite against Assad – US

Russia and China blocked a bid to force regime change. But a negotiated settlement is the only way out of civil war


Travelogue for the Universe said...

Wow, good news coverage as we are unable to change this horrible situation. Hope you have a great weekend. Love, Mary

Herrad said...

hi mary,
glad you liked me posting this,horrible knowing we can do-nothing.