Damascus blasts Syria meeting, claims victory over rebels

Damascus blasts Syria meeting, claims victory over rebels

Damascus on Sunday blasted the “Friends of Syriameeting in Istanbul that is seeking ways to raise pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as a “platform for the enemies of Syria.”

“Only the naive and those who want to see through the eyes of the Americans believe that this is a conference for the friends of the Syrian people,” said Al-Baath newspaper, mouthpiece of Assad’s ruling party of the same name. “The call by [Prince] Saud al-Faisal to arm the terrorists, encourage the bloodbath and destroy infrastructure makes the conference a platform for the enemies of Syria, who are discussing everything but the interests of the Syrians,” it added.

The Saudi foreign minister said on Saturday that “arming the opposition is a duty” because it is unable to defend itself, despite the opposition of Washington and other Western and Arab states to the idea. But the Damascus daily accused those attending the Istanbul gathering of seeking to weaken Syria.

“This is a regional and international offensive to find ways to kill still more Syrians, and ruin their society and their state, to weaken Syria and transform it into a country resembling those that pander to Washington, Paris, London and Tel Aviv.”

Erdoğan hosts terrorist: Syrian state TV

Meanwhile, Syrian state television broadcast images of the opening of the conference and condemned those participating. “[Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan speaks of the interests of the Syrian people and forgets that he is hosting the terrorists and facilitating their criminal operations in Syria,” it charged.

The Turkish prime minister, speaking at the start of the conference, said the international community would have no choice “but to accept Syrians’ right to self-defense,” if the U.N. Security Council fails to intervene to halt the crisis.

The TV channel also lashed out at Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, who also spoke at the start of the meeting. “Hamad speaks of a political solution in Syria and prides himself, like Faisal, on supporting terrorism with weapons and money to kill the Syrian people,” it said.

Damascus declares victory over rebels

Ahead of the Istanbul gathering, al-Assad’s regime declared victory over the rebels and again voiced support for Annan’s plan, but kept up its shelling of rebel positions and said it had no plans to immediately withdraw troops.

“The battle to topple the state is over, and the battle to solidify stability... and move on towards a renewed Syria has begun,” Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said in an interview carried on state television. Makdisi, cited by the official SANA news agency, claimed the military is in populated areas “in a state of self defense and protecting civilians.” “The Syrian army is not happy to be present in residential areas,” Makdisi said. “Once peace and security prevail in these areas, the army will not stay nor wait for Kofi Annan to leave. This is a Syrian matter.”

Clashes continue

Violence in Syria killed at least 16 people yesterday, including eight soldiers who died during ambushes and gun battles in the east, northwest and near Damascus, a monitoring group said. The heaviest fighting erupted in the town of Quriyeh in eastern Deir Ezzor province, killing five rebel fighters, four soldiers and a civilian, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least 32 people -- 24 of them civilians -- were killed in violence across Syria on March 31, said the Observatory. A group of army deserters killed four other troops in an ambush on their convoy near the town of Jisr al-Shughur in northwestern Idlib province close to the border with Turkey, it said.