Obama asks Assad to ‘step aside,’ condemns mass murder in Homs
President Barack Obama on Saturday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of murdering civilians in an “unspeakable assault” in the city of Homs, and demanded that Assad step down, a day after more than 400 civilians across the country were killed.
“Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately,” Obama said in a statement.
The U.S. president’s blunt condemnation came amid reports that more than 200 civilians were killed by Syrian forces in a night of shelling of residential areas in the flashpoint city of Homs.
More than 200 others were reported killed by security forces elsewhere in the country.
“Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help,” Obama said.
“I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones,” he said.
Obama said the Security Council “now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime’s relentless brutality and to demonstrate that it is a credible advocate for the universal rights that are written into the U.N. Charter.”
Western diplomats at the United Nations said they were determined to vote Saturday on a resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria, despite strong Russian objections.
Obama, meanwhile, pledged to work with the Syrians “toward building a brighter future,” for the country.
“Every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern,” he said.
“The Syrian regime’s policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse.
“Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community,” Obama said.
The Syrian regime denied responsibility for Friday’s mass killing, blaming saying that “armed groups” for attacking civilians across the country.
Residents said Syrian forces began shelling the Khalidiya neighborhood at around 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday using artillery and mortars. They said at least 36 houses were completely destroyed with families inside.
“We were sitting inside our house when we started hearing the shelling. We felt the bombardment was falling on our heads,” said Waleed a resident of Khalidiya.
As Syrians rushed to aid victims and carried on with funerals in Homs, Assad forces continued with attacks, Al Arabiya correspondent said, adding that nail bombs were used during the shelling campaign against the city.
It was not immediately clear what had prompted Syrian forces to launch such an intense bombardment at a time when diplomats at the U.N. Security Council are discussing a draft resolution on an Arab League plan calling for Assad to give up power.