Syrian President Says No Orders to Shoot Civilians

Posted January 10th, 2012 at 10:05 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to crackdown on “terrorists” with an “iron hand” and is blaming a “foreign conspiracy” for the 10-month-old anti-government uprising in his country.

From the Syrian capital, Damascus, Mr. Assad made a rare 100-minute address Tuesday on state television. He praised the work of his security forces and said he had not ordered them to shoot at civilians.

“Our priority now is to regain security which our country has enjoyed for decades. This can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron hand. There will be no leniency for those who are using weapons to kill our civilians. We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against their nation and people.”

The Syrian government has accused “armed terrorists” of driving the revolt against Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.

The embattled president again said he will not step down, maintaining that he still has the support of the Syrian people.

“When I leave this position, it will be because all of the Syrian people want it. I serve the Syrian people and listen to their wants and needs.”

Mr. Assad said his two priorities are combating terrorism and implementing reform, a promise he has failed to deliver on for months.

In his speech, he promised to let Syrians vote in March on a new constitution that would focus on a multi-party system. He said parliamentary elections will follow and could be held as soon as May.

Syrian activists watching the address on television in Turkey said Mr. Assad will not carry out any of his promises.

“My reaction is that all his speech is a kind of propaganda and made up of lies. He wants to say to the international community and to Arab world that he is good and he is going to change, but he will not. He is not going to do anything differently.''

The Syrian president also criticized the work of the Arab League that suspended Syria's membership in November.

The Arab League is conducting a widely-criticized observer mission in Syria to monitor its compliance with a plan to end violence against anti-government protesters.

On Tuesday, Kuwait's state-run KUNA news agency said “unknown protesters” attacked an Arab League team in the northern Syrian city of Latakia, injuring two Kuwaiti military officers. The report said the attack happened Monday, and that the officers have returned to work after being treated at a hospital.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi condemned the attack, and said he holds the Syrian government responsible for protecting the observers.

Arab League foreign ministers decided Sunday to increase the number of monitors in Syria, despite criticism from opposition activists and rights groups who say the mission has failed to bring any halt to the violence.

The United Nations says violence related to Mr. Assad's crackdown on the rebellion has killed at least 5,000 people. The Syrian government accuses armed terrorists of driving the 10-month revolt and killing 2,000 security personnel.