BEIRUT: A fourth member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle died today from a bomb attack this week and his forces fought to recapture border posts and parts of Damascus from rebels who have converged on the capital.
As refugees flooded across Syria’s borders and UN officials said they had heard banks in Damascus had run out of cash, Russia’s envoy to Paris added to a sense Assad’s days were numbered by saying he had accepted he would have to leave power. Syrian state television flashed a government statement soon afterwards saying the comments were ‘completely devoid of truth’.
Assad not spoken since Wednesday’s attack on a meeting of his high command and only appeared on Thursday to appoint a new defence minister to replace one of the assassinated men. Syrian state television said a funeral ceremony for the defence minister, his deputy — Assad’s brother-in-law — and a senior general was being held on Friday in Damascus.
It said later Syria’s intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar had died on Friday morning of wounds sustained in the same attack.
Clashes continued in Damascus for a sixth day and at least three people were killed when Syrian army helicopters fired rockets at the southeastern neighbourhood of Saida Zeinab, opposition activists said. Rebels from elsewhere in Syria have poured into the capital for what they say is the final battle for Damascus. “The regime is going through its last days,” Abdelbasset Seida, the leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group,
the Syrian National Council, said in Rome, predicting a possible dramatic escalation in violence.
Clashes were fiercest overnight in the sprawling Mezzeh district, where rebels appear to be sustaining attacks on many security compounds located there, residents said. State television said Syrian forces had cleared the central district of Midan of “mercenaries and terrorists”. Opposition activists and rebels sources confirmed on Friday that they had
withdrawn after coming under heavy bombardment. “It is a tactical withdrawal. We are still in Damascus,” Abu Omar, a rebel commander, said by telephone.
‘West to blame for resolution failure’
SHANGHAI: Western diplomats are to blame for the failure of the latest UN Security Council resolution on Syria after they tried to ram through an imbalanced draft that did not put enough pressure on opposition groups, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Friday. Russia and China voted down the Security Council resolution on Thursday, the third time the two countries have used their veto power to block resolutions designed to isolate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the 16-month conflict that has killed thousands. The draft threatened Syrian authorities with sanctions unless they halt violence against an uprising, and the dual veto drew immediate criticism from the United States, Britain and France, which all backed the resolution. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Beijing earlier this week and discussed the issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao, said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the Security Council vote on Thursday. In a commentary, Xinhua said the draft was not balanced, and that Western diplomats ‘displayed arrogance and inflexibility’ in negotiations, effectively killing the draft.
Assad ready to step down: Russian envoy
PARIS: Russian envoy to France says Moscow believes Syria’s president is ready to step down ‘in a civiliSed way’. But the Syrian government immediately denied it. Alexandre Orlov told RFI on Friday that ‘personally... I think it will be difficult for him to stay in office given everything that’s happened’. He noted that Assad accepted the final statement of the June 30 Geneva deal for a transition ‘towards a more democratic regime’ and in essence this meant that ‘he accepted to leave, but leave in a civilised way’. Orlov’s statement came after Russia and China blocked a Security Council vote to turn up pressure on Assad and after an attack killed three top Syrian defense officials.