Assad says Syria at war as battle reaches capital
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared yesterday that his country was at war and ordered his new government to spare no effort to achieve victory, as the worst fighting of the 16-month conflict reached the outskirts of the capital.
Video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions in suburbs of Damascus. A trail of fresh blood on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya led into a building where one casualty was taken. A naked man writhed in pain, his body pierced by shrapnel.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said “armed terrorist groups” had blocked the old road from Damascus to Beirut.
The declaration that Syria is at war marks a change of rhetoric from Assad, who had long dismissed the uprising against him as the work of scattered militants funded from abroad.
“We live in a real state of war from all angles,” Assad told a cabinet he appointed yesterday in a speech broadcast on state television.
“When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war.”
The rambling speech – Assad also commented on subjects as far afield as the benefits of renewable energy – left little room for compromise. He denounced the West, which “takes and never gives, and this has been proven at every stage”.
The United Nations accuses Syrian forces of killing more than 10,000 people during the conflict, which began with a popular uprising and has built up into an armed insurgency against four decades of rule by Assad and his father.
The UN peacekeeping chief said it was too dangerous for a UN observer team, which suspended operations this month, to resume monitoring a ceasefire. The truce, part of a peace plan backed by international envoy Kofi Annan, has long since been abandoned in all but name.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group which compiles reports from rebels, said 115 people were killed across Syria yesterday, making it one of the bloodiest days of the conflict. Its toll included 74 civilians it said had been killed, including 28 in Qudsiya.
It described heavy fighting near the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Qud-siya, and in other Damascus suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou’ Dumar, just 9 km from the capital.
SANA said dozens of rebels were killed or wounded and others arrested in fighting on the old Beirut road. Government forces seized rocket launchers, sniper rifles, machineguns and a huge amount of ammunition, it said.
Accounts from the rebels and the government cannot be verified because access for journalists is restricted.
Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks and armoured vehicles were out on the streets of the suburbs.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Syria must beware the wrath of Turkey after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish warplane on Friday at the Mediter-ranean coast. He ordered his armed forces to react to any threat from Syria near the border.