Al-Assad vows no exit as Arab deadline passes
DAMASCUS / CAIRO
Pro-Syrian regime protesters carry a huge portrait of Syrian President al-Assad during a demonstration in Damascus yesterday to show their solidarity with their president. AP photo
Syria yesterday brushed off the threat of a civil war and looming Arab League sanctions after a deadline for the regime to stop its lethal crackdown on protesters expired with 21 more people killed.
The Arab League said yesterday it had rebuffed a request by Damascus to amend plans for a 500-strong monitoring mission to Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad vowed to continue his crackdown and said he would not surrender to outside pressure.
Within hours of Assad ignoring a deadline to halt repression of protesters, residents said two rocket-propelled grenades hit a major ruling party building in Damascus early yesterday, the first such reported attack by insurgents inside the capital.
Confronted since March by street demonstrations against 41 years of rule by his family, Assad said he had no choice but to pursue his crackdown on unrest because his foes were armed. “The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue. Syria will not bow down,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby rejected Syria’s request to alter a plan for the fact-finding mission -- which would include military personnel and human rights experts -- in a letter to Syria’s foreign minister. Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said the plan as it stood compromised the country’s sovereignty but Damascus had not rejected the mission.
Muallem also dismissed as “wishful thinking” a warning by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that his country risked descending into civil war. “Whoever reads carefully remarks made by Mrs Clinton and Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu and others feels that they are pushing for that (civil war),” Muallem told a news conference in Damascus.
Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers are to hold crisis talks in Cairo on Nov. 24 to discuss developments in Syria, Arab League deputy secretary general Ahmed Bin Hilli told reporters yesterday. It was not immediately clear what action the Arab League would take after the deadline passed unheeded by Damascus. The pan-Arab body had threatened sanctions for non-compliance, and it suspended Syria’s membership in a surprise move last week. In an interview, Clinton conceded anew how little influence the United States has over events in Syria as she backed initiatives by Turkey and the Arab League to press Assad into ending the violence.