Arab League Committee Head Says Syria “Not Ready to Change”

Posted January 12th, 2012 at 3:55 am (UTC-5)
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The head of an Arab League committee on Syria says it is clear President Bashar al-Assad's government is not ready to “change its course.”

During a joint news conference Wednesday in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said Syria has not fulfilled its pledge to stop killing civilians and release prisoners.

The remarks came hours after Mr. Assad told supporters in Damascus that his government will defeat a “conspiracy” behind 10 months of opposition unrest. In a televised speech Tuesday, he vowed to use an “iron fist” against “terrorists” whom he says are driving the revolt.

Clinton described the Tuesday speech as “chillingly cynical,” and said that instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Assad was only “making excuses, blaming foreign countries, conspiracies.”

The violence in Syria continued Wednesday, with a rocket attack in the restive city of Homs killing a French television reporter and wounding at least one other foreign journalist.

Gilles Jacquier is the first Western journalist to be killed since the unrest in Syria began 10 months ago.

Syrian state media blamed the attack on “terrorists,” while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called it an “odious act” and demanded an investigation.

Violence was also reported in the desert town of Deir ez Zor and in the region of Hama, as well as to the south near Daraa.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department updated its travel warning for Syria Wednesday and said it has ordered a further reduction in staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. The warning says U.S. citizens should avoid all travel to Syria and urges Americans currently in Syria to depart immediately while commercial transportation is available.

The United Nations estimates at least 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising, many of them peaceful protesters attacked by Syrian security forces. Others have been killed in fighting between the Syrian military and army defectors who have joined the rebellion in recent months.