Monday, January 7, 2013

Assad gives defiant speech as Syrian rebels edge closer to Damascus

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Nearly two years after the beginning of a civil war in Syria, an estimated 60,000 people have died. In a rare speech Sunday, President Bashar al-Assad refused to end the conflict. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.
Updated at 4:52 p.m. ET: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday outlined what was billed as a new peace initiative that included a national reconciliation conference and a new constitution in a rare speech about the uprising against his rule, which has killed an estimated 60,000 people and brought civil war to the edge of his capital.
His foes reacted to the speech with scorn.
George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, told Reuters the peace plan Assad put at the heart of his speech did "not even deserve to be called an initiative."

"We should see it rather as a declaration that he will continue his war against the Syrian people," he said.
Speaking before an overwhelmingly supportive crowd that interrupted his speech with chants and rapturous applause several times, Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for "a war to defend the nation" and disparaged the prospect of negotiations. There was little to no acknowledgement that there are Syrians themselves who have taken up the fight.
"We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don't believe in any language but killing and terrorism?" Assad asked.
"Should we speak to gangs recruited abroad that follow the orders of foreigners? Should we have official dialogue with a puppet made by the West, which has scripted its lines?"

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In an interview with a Russian television channel, Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to live and die in Syria, amid the 19-month old uprising against him. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.
Assad said his initiative would not move forward until foreign funding for the rebels stops.
The European Union responded quickly, saying there can be no political solution until Assad steps down, a subject the Syrian president did not address in today's speech.
The State Department responded in a statement saying that Assad’s speech is “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power.”
“His initiative is detached from reality,” the State Department said, and “would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people.”
It was the 47-year-old leader's first speech in months and his first public comments since he dismissed suggestions that he might go into exile to end the civil war, telling Russian television in November that he would "live and die" in Syria.
As in previous speeches, he said his forces were fighting groups of "murderous criminals" and jihadi elements and denied there was an uprising against his family's decades-long rule.   He struck a defiant tone, saying Syria will not take dictates from anyone.
At the end of the speech, supporters rushed to the stage, mobbing him and shouting: "God, Syria and Bashar is enough!" as a smiling president waved and was escorted from the hall past a backdrop showing a Syrian flag made of pictures of people whom state television described as "martyrs" of the conflict so far.
PhotoBlog: Destruction, resistance in war-torn Syria
Insurgents are venturing ever closer to Damascus after bringing a crescent of suburbs under their control from the city's eastern outskirts to the southwest.
Assad's forces blasted rockets into the Jobar neighborhood near the city center on Saturday to try to drive out rebel fighters, a day after bombarding rebel-held areas in the eastern suburb of Daraya.
"The shelling began in the early hours of the morning, it has intensified since 11 a.m. (4 a.m. ET), and now it has become really heavy. Yesterday it was Daraya and today Jobar is the hottest spot in Damascus," an activist named Housam told Reuters by Skype from the capital.
Assad officials in Moscow to discuss end to civil war
The Syrian Network for Human Rights, a London-based group that supports the opposition, said it documented 76 deaths throughout Syria on Saturday, 35 of them in and around the capital Damascus. Reporting in Syria is severely restricted, and NBC News could not confirm these numbers.

Amid violence and chaos in Syria, 400 US troops have been deployed to Turkey with Patriot missile batteries to bolster defenses along the border. NBC's Annabel Roberts reports.
Since Assad's last public comments, in November, rebels have strengthened their hold on swathes of territory across northern Syria, launched an offensive in the central province of Hama and endured weeks of bombardment by Assad's forces trying to dislodge them from Damascus's outer neighborhoods.
Syria's political opposition has also won widespread international recognition. But Assad has continued to rely on support from Russia, China and Iran to hold firm and has used his air power to blunt rebel gains on the ground.
Missile batteries
Despite the estimated death toll of 60,000 announced by the United Nations earlier this week -- a figure sharply higher than that given by activists -- the West has shown little appetite for intervening against Assad in the way that NATO forces supported rebels who overthrew Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
But NATO is sending U.S. and European Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries to the Turkish-Syrian border.
Channel Four Europe's Alex Thomson has the rare opportunity to meet some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops.
Explosion at Syrian gas station kills, wounds dozens; opposition blames car bomb
The United States military said U.S. troops and equipment had begun arriving in Turkey on Friday for the deployment. Germany and the Netherlands are also sending Patriot batteries, which will take weeks to deploy fully.
Turkey and NATO say the missiles are a safeguard to protect southern Turkey from possible Syrian missile strikes. Syria and allies Russia and Iran say the deployments could spark an eventual military action by the Western alliance.
Syria's war has proved the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts that arose out of popular uprisings in Arab countries over the past two years and led to the downfall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


President Bashar al-Assad’s speech in Arabic – Sunday January 6, 2013

Many people are saying that Bashar is in a bubble. By this they are insisting that his victory speech is bluster or based on bad intelligence and fawning officers who give him only good news. Certainly, he is in a bubble. But it is a mistake to overestimate the power of the rebels. They too have been in a bubble. They have thought that this was going to be much easier from the beginning – that Bashar would either roll over because he would not have the stomach for a real fight, or the international community would do a Libya, or that Syria would have a Tahrir moment.

The opposition has gotten stronger every month since the beginning of the uprising. But the destructive power of this regime has not played itself out by a long shot. It is responding to the changes on the ground and becoming more lethal as well. Patrick Seale in the Aljazeera show, copied below, argues that Syria could turn out to be like Algeria – with 200,000 killed and no rebel victory. I don’t believe Syria will end up like Algeria. I don’t believe that Bashar or his military can endure, precisely because of the emerging sectarian nature of this fight. But I also believe that Patrick is right to warn the international community and Syrians that worse may yet be waiting for them. The regime’s military remains powerful and has many weapons the opposition cannot match. They are killing the opposition in high numbers.

Most opposition commanders have no or little military experience. They have little outside support and what they do have is fickle and irregular.

What this means is that they will take an extraordinary beating before becoming a professional fighting force with the ability to destroy the Syrian Army and take Damascus and Syria’s other cities.

But in the end, the numbers are likely to be decisive. The regime does not have an infinite supply of supporters who can fight. The rebels probably do. But what will Syria look like when it is over? The thought is staggering.

Video: What does 2013 have in store for Syria? – Video
Seale, Bahout and Tabler on al-jazeera, on January 6, 2013

President Bashar al-Assad’s Speech Highlights video (English Subtitles)

Excerpts from Syrian President Assad’s speech – text-Reuters

Russia’s reporting on the Speech – RT – “President Assad outlines political solution to Syrian conflict”

English transcript from Sana
President al-Assad : Out of Womb of Pain, Hope Should Be Begotten, from Suffering Important Solutions Rise
Jan 06, 2013
DAMASCUS, (SANA)_ President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday said if pain is pervading like a dark cloud over the country, the emotional state only, with its sublimity, is not enough to compensate the loss of the loved ones or the restoration of security and peace to the country or providing bread, water, fuel and medicine nationwide.
Delivering a speech on the latest developments in Syria and the region at the Opera House in Damascus, President al-Assad added “out of the womb of pain, hope should be begotten and from the bottom of suffering the most important solutions rise, as the dark cloud in the sky conceals the sun light, but it also carries in its layers rain, purity and hope of welfare and giving.”
President al-Assad said “These feelings of agony, sadness, challenge and intention are huge energy that will not get Syria out of its crisis unless it turns this energy into a comprehensive national move that saves the homeland from the unprecedented campaign hatched against it.”
“This national move is the only balm for the deep wounds which affected our society and were about to divide it as it is the only way that is able to keep Syria geographically and making it politically stronger,” the President added.

“At the beginning they wanted it a fake revolution but the Syrian people rebelled against them, then they tried to impose it by money, media and arms secretly and when they failed, they moved to the second phase through dropping the masks of a “peaceful revolution” and unveiled the cover of the weapons they were using secretly to use them openly starting their attempts to occupy cities as to pounce upon other cities,” President al-Assad said, adding that “their brutal behaviors didn’t deter our people, thanks to their awareness and steadfastness, to unveil their lies and reject them. Therefore they decided to take revenge on the people through spreading terrorism everywhere.”

The President stressed that the Takfiries were working at the back rows through bombings mass killing leaving the armed gangs at the front line but the unity of the Syrian people and army obliged them to move for fighting at the front lines where they led the rudder of the blood, killing and mutilation ship.

“Each citizen is responsible and able to provide something even if it is tiny or limited as he/she may consider, because the homeland is for everyone; we all defend it each with his/her capacity and capability, because the thought is a way of defense, the stance is a way of defense, construction is a way of defense and protecting people’s properties is a way of defense,” President al-Assad added.
“Since the attack is launched against the homeland with all its human and material components, the mindful citizen has certainly known that passivity, waiting for time or others to solve the problem is a sort of pushing the country towards the abyss, and not participating in solutions is a kind of taking the homeland backwards with no progress towards overcoming what the home is going through.

“They have killed civilians and the innocent to kill light and brightness in our country; they have assassinated the qualified and intellectuals to spread their ignorance on our minds; they sabotaged the infrastructure built with the people’s money to make suffering pervade into our lives; they deprived children of their schools to devastate the future of the country and express their ignorance and they cut off electricity, communications and fuel supply, leaving the elderly and children suffering from the cold weather without medicine, emphasizing their savagery. But their theft has been manifested through sabotaging wheat stocks, stealing wheat and flour to make the loaf like a dream for citizens and to starve people… Is it a conflict for power and post or is it a conflict between the homeland and its enemies? Is it a struggle for authority or is it a revenge on the Syrian people who did not give those terrorist killers the key word for dismembering Syria and its society…. continue
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad calls on foreign countries to end support for rebels
Opposition denounces president’s peace plan as ‘empty rhetoric’ as Assad pledges to stay and continue fighting ‘terrorist’ violence
Ian Black, Middle East editor

State Dept: Asad’s Speech
Asad’s Speech Press Statement Victoria Nuland Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson Washington, DC January 6, 2013
Bashar al-Asad’s speech today is yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition. His initiative is detached from reality, undermines the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people.
For nearly two years, the Asad regime has brutalized its own people. Even today, as Asad speaks of dialogue, the regime is deliberately stoking sectarian tensions and continuing to kill its own people by attacking Sunni towns and villages in the mixed areas of Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkmen in Lattakia province.

Assad has lost all legitimacy and must step aside to enable a political solution and a democratic transition that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. The United States continues to support the Geneva Action Group’s framework for a political solution, which was endorsed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Arab League, and the UN General Assembly. We will continue our efforts in support of Joint Special Representative Brahimi to build international unity behind it and to urge all parties in Syria to take meaningful steps toward its implementation
Bashar al-Assad’s speech echoes Gaddafi’s final, desperate rallies
There was more than a little of the Gaddafi about Bashar al-Assad’s appearance on Sunday, and not just the theatre of a personality cult.
By , Middle East Correspondent
It was the first time in two years of revolution we have seen support for the Syrian leader so choreographed, accompanied by such fist-pumping chants from the audience.
Even the slogans were the same as the slain Libyan dictator: “God, Syria, Bashar, enough”.
Reminiscent too was the rambling delivery, leaping incoherently back and forth between vague peace proposals and unremitting imprecations against the opposition: “al-Qaeda”, “armed criminals”, “foreign terrorists” were also prominent in Col Muammar Gaddafi’s vocabulary.
Then there were the lapses into bizarre sentimentality, as when he announced: “I look at the eyes of Syria’s children and I don’t see any happiness” – something that would hardly surprise anyone who had watched the news over the last two years.
Mr Assad is no Gaddafi, of course. But his smoother, better-educated, more rational persona, lacking the Gaddafi instinct for the absurd, makes him in some ways even more of a mystery.
 Tabler on NPR - Assad in Bubble

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