Sunday January 6, 2013
Syria's Assad to make rare public address
DAMASCUS: Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad is to make a rare public address Sunday expected to focus on the uprising against his rule in which according to the UN more than 60,000 people have died.
The speech comes as Patriot missiles are deployed along the Turkish border in a move the US military said was to help Turkey defend itself against any threat from Syria, which is in the throes of a 21-month civil war.
"President Assad will give a speech today (Sunday) on the latest developments in Syria and in the region," state television said on Sunday, echoing an earlier report by the official SANA news agency.
A newscaster said Assad would be speaking "within the hour, or coming hours." SANA said the speech would be delivered in the morning, but gave no specific time.
Assad last spoke in public on June 3 when he addressed parliament in Damascus. In November he gave an interview to Russian television in which he dismissed suggestions he would go into exile, saying said he would "live and die" in Syria.
The pro-Syrian Lebanese daily, Al-Akhbar, said Assad was ready to offer a "solution" to the conflict.
Citing unnamed sources, the paper said Assad may submit a five-point plan that would not preclude him from contesting the next presidential election when his term ends in 2014.
The plan also provides a ceasefire, allowing international observers to monitor its application, a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, forming a national government and holding free elections for a new parliament, it said.
During his latest visit to Damascus, UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi had mentioned a plan, based on a Geneva declaration, that talked of a ceasefire, forming a government and holding parliamentary and presidential polls.
Last April, a team of some 300 truce monitors began deploying in Syria as part of a six-point plan to end the bloodshed launched by Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan. They were pulled out only four months later amid mounting violence.
The Syrian authorities have not responded directly to Brahimi's proposals, but said that they are eager to discuss any plan involving dialogue.
The Geneva plan put forward last June would see a transitional government in place, but it does not refer to Assad going - a key demand of the opposition.
NATO-member Turkey, a one-time Damascus ally, has become one of its most vocal opponents over the conflict in its southern neighbour, and on Saturday the deployment began of US Patriot missiles near its border with Syria.
The US will transport some 400 troops to Turkey in the coming days to operate two Patriot batteries, to be based at Gaziantep, 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the border.
Germany, The Netherlands and the United States agreed to supply the ground-to-air missile batteries which Turkey requested after deadly cross-border shelling from Syria.
Syrians in Damascus expressed mixed opinions ahead of Assad's speech.
"I am optimistic after watching recent statements by the Egyptian and Saudi foreign ministers in the media," said Yasser, a shopkeeper in the central Damascus district of Salhiyeh.
"I feel that there is a shift toward finding a solution to the crisis, that something is in the offing," he told AFP.
Yasser predicted that Assad would propose "a national unity government with broad powers," adding: "I do not expect a regime that lasted for 40 years to give up power so easily."
Noha, a housewife in her forties, stressed that her primary concern is that her family cannot sleep at night due to constant shelling.
"Words are not important, all that matters is what happens on the ground," she said. "How can we be optimistic about a breakthrough solution when the violence is continuing?
Violence continued unabated, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday reporting that troops bombarded rebel positions on the outskirts of the capital overnight, including in Beit Saham near the Damascus airport road, the southwest town of Daraya and Douma to the northeast.
The army has in recent weeks sent reinforcements in a bid to regain control of Daraya, the scene of the bloodiest massacre of the conflict in which hundreds were killed in late August.
On Wednesday, the United Nations said the overall death toll from the 21-month conflict had topped 60,000. The fatality rate has multiplied in recent months, as air strikes have stepped up.
On Saturday, 92 people - 43 civilians, 24 rebels and 25 soldiers - were killed nationwide, the Britain-based watchdog said. - AFP