Sunday, 10 June 2012
Sunday, 10 June 2012
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad is on its “last legs” and has lost control of several cities, the new opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) leader, Abdel Basset Sayda, told AFP news agency on Sunday.
“We are entering a sensitive phase. The regime is on its last legs, Sayda said a few hours after he was named as the new SNC president.
“The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is struggling,” he added in allusion to a spate of mass killings of civilians, the most recent of which saw 20 people, most of them women and children, killed in the bombardment of a residential area of the southern city of Daraa on Saturday.
The SNC had said late Saturday that it elected Sayda, a Kurdish activist, as its new leader at a meeting in Istanbul.
“Abdel Basset Sayda has been elected president of the Syrian National Council as successor to Dr. Burhan Ghalioun,” a brief statement said.
He takes over from Paris-based academic Ghalioun, the exiled bloc’s first leader who stepped down last month in the face of mounting splits that were undermining the group’s credibility.
Activists accused Ghalioun of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground in Syria, and of giving the Muslim Brotherhood too big a role.
Sayda, who has lived in exile in Sweden for two decades, is seen as a consensus candidate capable of reconciling the rival factions within the SNC and of broadening its appeal among Syria’s myriad of ethnic and confessional groups.
Born in 1956 in Amuda, a mostly Kurdish city in northeastern Syria, Sayda is an expert in ancient civilizations and author of a number of books on Syria’s Kurdish minority but is Arabic educated.
He does not belong to any political party and his name is not familiar to many Syrians but SNC officials say he is a “conciliatory” figure, “honest” and “independent”.
The SNC has been criticized for not representing the full diversity of Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and other ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
Syria’s Kurds represent around nine percent of Syria’s 23 million population. Most of them live in the north of the country and in Damascus.
They complain of persistent discrimination, and demand recognition for their Kurdish culture and language, and that they be treated as full-fledged citizens.
A dozen Kurdish political groups are banned by Syrian authorities.
Fighting in Damascus
Meanwhile bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in the Syrian capital of Damascus as troops battled rebels in the streets, a show of boldness for rebels taking their fight against President Bashar Assad to the center of his power.
For nearly 12 hours of fighting that lasted into the early hours Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces in the heaviest fighting in the Assad stronghold since the 15-month-old uprising began. U.N. observers said rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the local power plant, damaging parts of it and reducing six buses to charred shells, according to video the observers took of the scene.
Syrian forces showed the regime’s willingness to unleash such firepower in the capital: At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, an activist said. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.
At least 52 civilians were killed around the country outside Damascus on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group. Among them were 20, including nine women and children, who died in heavy, pre-dawn shelling in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Six children were among 10 killed by a shell that exploded in a house they took cover in during fierce fighting in the coastal region of Latakia, the group said.
The group’s figures could not be independently confirmed.
The Damascus violence was a dramatic shift; the capital has been relatively quiet compared with other Syrian cities throughout the uprising. Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s largest, are under the firm grip of security forces.
The rebels’ brazenness in the Damascus districts underscored deep-seated Sunni anger against the regime, with residents risking their safety – and potentially their lives – to shelter the fighters. Residents burned tires to block the advance of Syrian troops, sending plumes of smoke into the air, amateur video showed.
Urban Sunni Syrians had once mostly stayed at arms’ length from their mostly rural compatriots leading the uprising, fearing the instability that their leaderless, chaotic movement would bring.
But it appears a series of massacres of mainly Sunni peasants over the past few weeks have tipped some of their urban brethren in favor of the uprising. One rebel supporter in Qaboun said the recent mass killings made people see rebel fighters more as protectors against Assad’s forces.
“The regime has forced the rebels into the city. When they commit attacks, or massacres, or arrests, they come in to defend residents,” he said.
The most recent mass killing was on Wednesday in central Syria, where activists say up to 78 people were hacked, burned and stabbed in the farming village of Mazraat al-Qubair. The opposition and regime have traded blame over the slayings.
“The heart of this revolt is the poor, jobless youth in the countryside. But that is gathering strength in other places, in Aleppo, in Damascus and even the Kurdish regions,” said Syria expert Joshua Landis.
“The psychological state of the people, after watching these massacres, is so far advanced. People are ready to do whatever it takes. They are frightened; it could come next to them.”
Source: Al Arabiya with Agencies