President Bashar Assad claims the country's "crisis" is drawing to a close
Syrian President Bashar Assad claimed the country’s “crisis” is drawing to a close even as forces unleashed tank shells on opponents Wednesday and U.S. sanctions took aim at the Syrian leader and his senior aides for their brutal crackdowns.
The messages from Damascus and Washington highlight a sharp divide: Western governments trying to boost pressure on Syria’s regime, but Assad displaying confidence he can ride it out.
Assad received a further boost when a call for nationwide strikes fell flat and longtime ally Russia vowed to stand against any U.N. resolutions that would sanction Syria.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented coverage of the conflict, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country or gauge the strength of the unprecedented protest movement in one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
But as the regime tightens its lockdown and broadens its campaign of intimidation, the regime could eventually frighten the population enough to eventually keep them off the streets — a tactic used by Syria’s close partner Iran after unprecedented post-election chaos two years ago.
On Wednesday, witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the western border town of Talkalakh with tanks for the fourth consecutive day. Syrians fleeing to Lebanon in recent days have described horrific scenes of execution-style slayings and bodies in the streets in Talkalakh.
Activists say at least 27 people have been killed there since last week.
“They are bombing us with tanks, it’s been going on for days,” a resident told The Associated Press by phone from just outside the town of the town of some 70,000 people, just hours after fleeing.
“Security forces are making random arrests, there isn’t one security apparatus that they have not sent to the town,” he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
More than 5,000 people have crossed from Talkalakh across a shallow river into Wadi Khaled on the Lebanese side of the border in recent weeks.
Assad “is not a president,” said Mohammad, a Syrian who fled Talkalakh three days earlier and was taking shelter along with others in a mosque in Wadi Khaled. “We elected him to protect us and shelter us, not to displace us,” he told Associated Press Television News.
The violence across Syria has sparked international condemnation and efforts for new sanctions against the Syrian leadership after more than 850 deaths since the uprising began in March.
In Washington, officials said the Treasury Department planned sanctions on Assad and six members of his inner circle. It would mark the first time that sanctions would hold Assad personally accountable for actions of his security forces. In Berlin, Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also pushed for a second round of European Union sanctions that would target Assad.
The Swiss government, meanwhile, passed a measure restricting arms sales to Syria and freezing the assets and banning the travel to Switzerland of 13 senior Syrian officials. The arms embargo is largely theoretical because Switzerland hasn’t exported weapons to Syria in over a decade, but any Swiss banks holding assets of the 13 officials will have to declare them immediately to the government.
“The recent events in Syria we believe prove that the country cannot go back to the status quo ante,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “Syria’s future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of its people.”
But the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said Assad must be given a chance to fulfill his reform promises and warned against foreign interference in the country.
On Wednesday, Assad was quoted as saying the country’s security forces have made mistakes during the uprising, blaming poorly trained police officers at least in part for the bloody crackdown.
Assad’s comments, carried Wednesday in the private Al-Watan newspaper, downplayed the extent of the violence — but they were significant because they mark a rare acknowledgment of shortcomings within Syria’s powerful security agencies.
Assad said thousands of police officers were receiving new training and that the “crisis” was nearing an end.
Assad also has blamed much of the unrest of thugs and foreign agitators looking to sow sectarian strife.
Syria’s state-run news agency said gunmen killed the head of the Political Security Agency in Homs, Colonel Mohammad Ibrahim al-Abdullah, in an ambush along with four of his assistants Tuesday.
It said a group of young Syrians had announced they want to surrender themselves to the colonel personally, and that when he arrived to meet them, they opened fire, killing him instantly.
Human rights activists also said troops used heavy machine guns to attack a neighborhood in the central city of Homs and sent troops and tanks to Nawa, a village near the besieged southern city of Daraa.
An eyewitness said hundreds of security forces also moved in the town of Dummeir east of Damascus from four sides Tuesday, set up machine guns and were storming houses and making random arrests.
The witnesses spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
Zeina Karam can be reached at http://twitter.com/zkaram
More Related Stories
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11