Assad slams conspiracy as Israel offers Alawites Golan
DAMASCUS / JERUSALEM
Syrian President al-Assad firms up a timetable for promised reform in the face of 10 months of anti-regime protests but vows to crush ‘terrorism’ with an iron fist. AFP photoSyrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed yesterday to respond to threats against him with an “iron hand” and refused to step down insisting he still has his people’s support despite the 10-month-old uprising against him.
In his first speech since June, al-Assad repeated claims that a foreign conspiracy and terrorists are behind the unrest, not true reform-seekers. “Our priority now is to regain security which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron hand,” al-Assad said in a nearly two-hour speech at Damascus University, where he stood at a podium flanked by Syrian flags.
Al-Assad also lashed out at the Arab League, saying the Cairo-based bloc failed to protect Arab interests. “The Arab League failed for six decades to protect Arab interests,” the Associated Press quoted al-Assad as saying. “We shouldn’t be surprised it’s failed today.” Kuwait’s official news reported that a group of Arab League observers were attacked in the northern city of Latakia on Jan. 9 and two Kuwaiti army officers were lightly injured. KUNA news agency said the observers were attacked by “unknown protesters” Jan. 9.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi yesterday denounced attacks on Arab observers and said he was holding the government in Damascus responsible for their mission. “The Arab League denounces the irresponsible action and acts of violence against the League’s observers,” Arabi said in a statement issued by his office.
Israel preparing to take Syrian refugees
“We will declare victory soon,” al-Assad said. “When I leave this post, it will be also based upon the people’s wishes,” he added. Al-Assad also accused hundreds of media outlets of working against Syria and claimed an interview he gave to Barbara Walters at ABC news network last month was altered and accused the station of “professional fabrication.” “They failed, but they have not given up,” he said of media outlets in the speech, which was broadcast live on state television.
Also, a Russian naval task force has left the Syrian port of Tartus after a three-day visit, Russia’s Northern Fleet said yesterday. The task force, led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, called on the Syrian port Jan. 8. The warships left Syrian territorial waters yesterday afternoon and continued on their route in accordance with their schedule, RIA Novosti said, citing the fleet’s statement, Russia Today website reported.
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing to receive Syrian Alawite refugees on the Golan Heights if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad collapses, Israel’s army chief of staff said yesterday. “On the day the Assad regime falls, it is expected to harm the Alawite clan. We are preparing to receive Alawite refugees on the Golan Heights,” Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said, Agence France-Presse reported.
It was the first time that a senior Israeli official had raised the possibility that members of the Alawite minority, which includes the Assad family, could seek refugee in Israel in order to escape an expected backlash in the event the regime collapses.
The Assad family are Alawite, members of a Shiite minority group who are strongly represented in the top ranks of the Syrian army and the ruling Baath party. Gantz also said Assad’s fall was likely to affect its alliance with Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement.