Last updated: 8 December, 2011

Syria’s Assad denies orders to kill

The Arab League sought Iraq’s help on Thursday in persuading Syria to allow observers on its soil as part of efforts to end unrest, as activists called for a civil disobedience campaign against the regime.

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad meanwhile vowed that Syria would “not change its positions” in the face of any pressure, a day after drawing a stinging US rebuke for denying he had ordered a deadly crackdown on protesters.

On the ground, activists said security forces killed 12 people Thursday as they pushed their months-long crackdown against regime opponents in the protest hubs of Homs and Idlib.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a joint news conference in Baghdad with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi that Iraq would try to convince Syria to accept an Arab peace deal and the deployment of monitors.

“We will exert efforts and discuss with the Syrian government how to remove all the obstacles facing this initiative,” said Zebari.

Arabi added: “The ball is in the Syrian court.”

Iraq has close trade ties with Syria and has refused to enforce the sweeping sanctions against Damascus approved by the Arab League on November 27 over the Syrian government’s deadly crackdown on protests.

The Arab League wants Syria to allow a group of observers in the country to monitor the situation on the ground.

Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said Assad’s conditional acceptance of observers does not amount to meaningful progress, in an interview published Thursday in Brazil’s Estado de Sao Paulo daily.

“The president (Assad) is viewed as as a murderer by the majority of the Syrian people and any negotiation for a democratic transition requires Assad relinquishing power” Ghalioun said.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Britain, France and Germany said the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay should brief the Security Council on the Assad regime’s relentless assault on protesters, diplomats said.

The UN says at least 4,000 people — mostly civilians — have been killed in the crackdown since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

Last month the Arab bloc suspended Syria’s membership and hit the Damascus regime with crippling trade and diplomatic sanctions, warning of further measures unless it signs a protocol allowing in an observer mission.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the monitors would be allowed to enter the country under certain conditions, according to the text of a letter to Arabi published by Syrian newspapers.

If Syria observers into the country all the Arab bloc’s sanctions would become “null and void”, the letter said.

Assad said he would not be swayed by pressure, the official SANA news agency reported on Thursday.

“Syria is strong, thanks to its people and the support of friends,” he told a delegation of Lebanese Druze clerics in Damascus.

An Arab League ministerial team is due to meet on Saturday in Qatar to discuss the next move, according to an Arab diplomat.

Assad said in an interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday that no government would kill its people “unless it’s led by a crazy person” and said he did not “own” the security forces carrying out the violence.

His remarks — coming after a bloody weekend which saw more than 100 people reportedly killed across Syria — fuelled a stinging rebuke from Washington.

“It either says that he’s completely lost any power that he had within Syria, that he’s simply a tool or that he’s completely disconnected with reality,” said US State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

In Thursday’s violence, Syrian forces killed 10 civilians in the central city of Homs and two others in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

A woman was among those killed in Homs, a main hub for dissent that has been besieged for more than two months, with security forces using sniper fire and “arbitrary” shelling, said the Britain-based group.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network appealed for citizens to mobilise for a “dignity strike” to begin Sunday “which will lead to the sudden death of this tyrant regime”.

It urged citizens to start with sit-ins at work and the closure of shops and universities, before the shutdown of transportation networks and a general public sector strike.

SANA said, meanwhile, that “an armed terrorist group targeted in a sabotage operation the pipeline of Tal al-Shor, west of Homs.”

The Observatory also reported the explosion of “an oil pipeline in Homs which transports crude to the city’s refinery from eastern Syria” but gave no cause for the blast.