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Assad’s opponents dismiss his ‘peace plan’ with scorn

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Opponents of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed with scorn what he described as a new initiative on Sunday to end the war in Syria.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition rejected Assad’s plan, spokesman Walid al-Bunni told AFP by phone.

"We said at the founding of the National Coalition that we want a political solution, but ... there are now over 60,000 martyrs. The Syrians did not make all those sacrifices in order to bolster this tyrannical regime," he said.

Bunni said that the speech was directed primarily at the "international community, which engaged in a real effort to create a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people and ends the tyranny of the Assad family regime."

Assad will not accept "any initiative that does not restore stability to his regime and put him at the helm of control", Bunni said.

The president, he added, has "excluded the possibility of any dialogue with the rebels."

"He wants negotiating partners of his own choosing and will not accept any initiative that could meet the aspirations of the Syrian people or ultimately lead to his departure and the dismantling of his regime."

Empty promises

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, said in a Twitter message "empty promises of reform fool no one." He added: "Death, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are of his own making."

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels would "look carefully if there is anything new in the speech, but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition".

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said President -Assad had simply repeated empty promises in his speech in Damascus on Sunday, and called for a swift transition in the war-torn country.

"His remarks are just repetitions of what he's said all along. They are the same promises he made to us," Davutoglu said. "As Assad no longer has the representative authority over the Syrian people, his words have lost persuasiveness ... A transition period needs to be completed swiftly through talks with representatives of the Syrian nation."

Assad spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud.

The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria. Fighting has arrived at the edge of the capital in what has become the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts to emerge from two years of revolts in the Arab world.

The past six months have seen Syrian rebels advance dramatically. They now control much of the north and east of the country, a crescent of suburbs on the outskirts of the capital and the main border crossings with Turkey.

But Assad's forces are still firmly in control of most of the densely populated southwest, the main north-south highway and the Mediterranean coast.

Assad's speech seemed ostensibly aimed at showing Syrians, and perhaps diplomats, that he is open to change.

But the plan could hardly have been better designed to ensure its rejection by the opposition.

Among its proposals: rebels would first be expected to halt their operations before the army would cease fire, a certain non-starter.

Assad repeatedly described parts of the opposition as agents of foreign powers who could not be included in any negotiations: "We will not have dialogue with a puppet made by the West," he said to an outburst of applause.
The opposition has consistently said it will not cease fire until the army does, and will not negotiate any transitional government unless Assad is excluded.

Assad also repeatedly emphasized rebel links to al-Qaeda and Islamist radicals. Washington, which supports the opposition, has also labeled one of the main rebel groups terrorists and says it is linked to the network founded by Osama bin Laden.

Diplomacy has been largely irrelevant so far in the conflict, with the United States, European powers, Arab states and Turkey all demanding Assad leave power, while Russia and Iran refuse to exclude him from talks on a future government.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has been trying to bridge the gap, meeting senior U.S. and Russian officials to discuss a peace proposal that does not explicitly mention Assad's fate.