Assad promises relentless battle against 'terrorists'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged to pursue a relentless battle against "terrorist groups" he claims are behind pro-democracy protests as the death toll from his crackdown on dissent shot up.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2011 09:12 IST

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged to pursue a relentless battle against "terrorist groups" he claims are behind pro-democracy protests as the death toll from his crackdown on dissent shot up.

World pressure mounted to end the crackdown that has claimed more than 2,000 lives since mid-March, with condemnations from Egypt, Iraq, Russia and the United States as the Turkish foreign minister handed Assad a stern message from Ankara.

"We will not waver in our pursuit of terrorist groups," Assad told visiting Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, according to state news agency SANA.

Davutoglu met with the Syrian leader in Damascus to warn that Ankara has "run out of patience" with the crackdown, as activists said 34 people were killed by security forces on Tuesday.

Pro-democracy protests escalated into an uprising on March 15 and, in the ensuing crackdown, turned to calls for the ouster of Assad. The President has consistently blamed "armed gangs" and "terrorist groups" for the unrest, but has also offered promises of reform.

In his remarks, Assad again promised wide-ranging reforms, SANA said without elaborating.

Upon returning home, Davutoglu said he had urged the Syrian leader to end the bloodshed and implement democratic reforms.

"We hope that some measures will be taken in the coming days to end the bloodshed and open the way to a process for political reform," he said.

As Assad held his ground, activists reported another 34 deaths, including 17 people killed and another 50 wounded, some of them seriously, by security forces in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor. An army assault there on Sunday killed 42 people.

"At least 15 people were killed in different parts of Deir Ezzor, which has been raided by tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, quoting activists at the scene.

It spoke of corpses "littering" the streets and tanks deployed in a central square as gunfire echoed all around.

Five people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed in Binnish in Idlib province bordering Turkey, six died in the protest hub of Hama, two in Homs, two in the Damascus area and one in Latakia, activists said.

A 35-year-old man "tortured" by authorities also died of his injuries, relatives said.

An activist in Hama said the city was calm after a military assault but suffering from "an acute shortage of food."

On the diplomatic front, Brazil, India and South Africa meanwhile hoped to help open a dialogue between Syrian authorities and protesters, a Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"The Brazilian representative is already in Damascus, where he awaits his counterparts," and their meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem "should take place on Wednesday," the official said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr became the latest Arab official to call for an "immediate end" to violence in Syria, warning the country was "heading to the point of no return." He was due to travel to Turkey on Wednesday for consultations.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow's call for an end to violence and the launch of deep-rooted political reforms in Syria, during a phone call with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

A Russian statement stressed the "priority of ending violence and continuing efforts to conduct comprehensive political, social and economic reforms in Syria without delay."

State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland highlighted the toughening US and international stance, saying Assad seemed deaf to calls from around the world to end the bloodshed.

Last week, Russia backed a UN Security Council statement condemning the "use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities" after refusing to back a tougher resolution.

On Monday, Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus, following in the steps of regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, and Washington said it was "encouraged and heartened" by the tougher Arab stand.

A chorus of Arab and Muslim condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria built up throughout the weekend and into Monday when Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based top Sunni authority, said the crackdown "has gone too far."

First Published: Aug 10, 2011 09:10 IST