Russia: Syria’s Assad Promises Reforms, Dialogue as Crackdown Continues

Posted February 7th, 2012 at 4:35 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Russia's foreign minister says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will push ahead with promised reforms and soon set a date for a referendum on a new constitution aimed at broadening political participation. Sergei Lavrov spoke after meeting Mr. Assad in Damascus to discuss the country's escalating violence.

Lavrov said the Syrian president supports expanding an Arab League monitoring mission and is ready for dialogue with the opposition. But, repeated efforts by the league and Russia to organize talks have been rejected by Syrian opposition groups angered by the Assad government's deadly crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday the Syrian president's latest reform pledges are hard to believe as his forces continue to bombard civilians. The Obama administration shut its embassy in Damascus Monday as part of a Western and Arab campaign to isolate Mr. Assad diplomatically and pressure him into stopping the crackdown.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday Washington also is exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians in cooperation with U.S. allies. He did not elaborate. Western powers and Arab nations have repeatedly said they do not want to intervene militarily in the Syrian crisis.

France, Italy and Spain recalled their ambassadors to Syria on Tuesday, citing the Assad government's continued repression. The six Gulf Cooperation Council states, led by Saudi Arabia, also announced they are withdrawing their ambassadors from Damascus and expelling Syrian envoys in response to the worsening violence.

Syrian activists say the international community's words and actions are not enough.

Syrian activist and engineer Abo Emad , who did not want his real name to be used, spoke with VOA via Skype from the basement of a building in Homs where he is taking cover from the shelling with about 20 other people. He says the Syrian people have lost confidence in the international community.

“They're saying that they're all partners in killing us. Even the Security Council. Even the United Nations.”

Syrian activists said heavy shelling resumed in the protest hub of Homs, a day after nearly 100 civilians were killed in fighting across the country. They reported tanks and troops closing in on rebel-held Baba Amr and other districts of Homs, tightening a months-long siege of the city. Activists said a further 15 people were killed and at least 40 wounded in Tuesday's barrage.

Abo Emad says Tuesday's bombardment was worse than the day before, saying it is “deadly” to even go outside. He says Syrian security forces are bombing everything, including homes, schools and mosques.

“They surrounded the area by snipers, and they're shooting at everything that moves. Even the cats.”

Abo Emad says there is nothing that can be done to help save the wounded because there are no medical supplies, doctors or nurses in the area.

The Syrian government blames the violence on “armed terrorists” bent on dividing and sabotaging the country.

Turkey said Tuesday it will launch a new initiative to address the situation in Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is due to arrive in Washington Wednesday for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said the United States would work with other nations to tighten sanctions against Mr. Assad's government and deny it arms in the absence of a U.N. resolution.

On Saturday, Russia and China vetoed a Western and Arab-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Mr. Assad to step aside, order his troops to stand down and enact democratic reforms. Moscow and Beijing said they blocked the measure because they perceived it as taking sides in a domestic conflict and providing a possible pretext for foreign military intervention.