Rights Activists Say Clashes Kill 4 in Central Syria

Posted January 11th, 2012 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say four people were killed in clashes with government security forces as troops stormed a town near the central city of Hama.

The fighting Wednesday came as an Arab League monitor quit an observer mission that is assessing whether the Syrian government is honoring an agreement to stop violence against protesters.

In a television interview, Anwer Malek told al-Jazeera the mission is a “farce” and that the Syrian government “fabricated” most of the what the observers saw.

Meanwhile, the United States has criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Tuesday speech in which he blamed “foreign interference” for the 10-month anti-government uprising and vowed to crack down on “terrorists with an iron fist.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mr. Assad used his speech to try to “deflect the attention” of his people from his commitment to end his violent crackdown.

She said Mr. Assad “manages to blame a foreign conspiracy that is so vast with regard to the situation in Syria that it now includes the Arab League, most of the Syrian opposition, and the entire international community.”

Nuland added that the Syrian president “seems to aggressively deny any responsibility or any hand in the role of his own security forces.”

In his speech Tuesday on state television, the defiant Mr. Assad claimed he retains the support of his people, and he denied ordering security forces 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 leader also promised to let the people 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.

But Syrian activists watching the address on television in Turkey said they doubt Mr. Assad will carry out any of his promises.

“All his speech is a kind of propaganda and a kind of lie. He wants to say to the international community and to the Arab world that he is good and he is going to change, even [though] he [will] not. He will not do anything.”

The U.N. Security Council said Tuesday that 400 people — an average of 40 each day — have been killed since the Arab League observers arrived in Syria December 26.