Patrick Seale, author of several books on Syria, calls Assad’s speech tough but not “totally uncompromising”.
A former Arab League observer in Syria has decried the organisation’s monitoring mission to the country as a “farce”, as the UN Security Council heard security forces had stepped up the killing of protesters after the observers’ arrival.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the monitoring team, told Al Jazeera he resigned because of what he saw, and said that the mission was falling apart.
“What I saw was a humanitarian disaster. The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people,” he said.
“The snipers are everywhere shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released.”
He said that security forces did not withdraw their tanks from the streets, but just hid them and then redeployed them after the observers left.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has addressed a large gathering of his supporters in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Assad, in his second speech in as many days, reiterated his accusations that the “homeland was reeling under the brunt of conspiracy”.
The president also said: “We will triumph over this conspiracy. It is dying; it’s end of their plot.”
In a speech on Tuesday, his first public address since June, the Syrian President made some promises of reform, but no sweeping concessions that might placate an opposition determined to end more than four decades of domination by the Assad family.
French journalist killed
In the central city of Homs, a French journalist was among several people killed on Wednesday, becoming the first Western reporter to have died in 10 months of unrest in the country.
|French journalist Gilles Jacquier is the first Western reporter to have died in Syria since the uprising bagan [Reuters]|
Syria’s state-sponsored Addounia TV, which gave a total death toll of eight, said a Dutch journalist was among 25 people wounded.
France 2 television confirmed its journalists had been killed.
“France 2 television has just learned with a great deal of sorrow the death of reporter Gilles Jacquier in Homs,” the channel said in a statement, adding it did not have details of the circumstances of his death.
According to an AFP news agency reporter at the scene, a shell exploded amid a group of journalists covering demonstrations in the city.
The United Nations has said more than 5,000 civilians have been killed since protests against Assad began last March. Assad says “terrorists” have killed 2,000 members of his security forces.
A senior UN official told the Security Council on Tuesday that Syria had accelerated its killing of pro-democracy demonstrators after Arab League monitors arrived, according to Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations.
“The under-secretary-general noted that in the days since the Arab League monitoring mission has been on the ground, an estimated 400 additional people have been killed, an average of 40 a day, a rate much higher than was the case before their deployment,” Rice said.
Rice was speaking after Lynn Pascoe, UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, briefed the 15-nation Security Council behind closed doors on Syria and other major crises.
“That is a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity … to end the violence and fulfil all of its commitments [to the Arab League], is instead stepping up the violence,” Rice said.
Assad made scathing remarks about the Arab League, which suspended Syria in November and whose monitors are trying to check Syria’s compliance with an Arab peace plan.
“The Arab League has failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest,” he said.
The League condemned an attack on Monday in which 11 of its monitors were hurt by demonstrators in the port city of Latakia, saying Syria had breached its obligation to protect them.
Syria said it was continuing to provide security for the observers and condemned any act that obstructed their work.
|Patrick Seale, author of several books on Syria, discusses Assad’s speech on Tuesday|
But Malek told Al Jazeera that the government was not assisting observers with their requests.
“The regime didn’t meet any of our requests, in fact they were trying to deceive us and steer us away from what was really happening, towards insignificant things.”
He said that those who were supposedly freed and were shown on TV, were actually people who had been randomly grabbed off the street.
“They were detained for four or five days in tough conditions and later released as if they had been real prisoners.”
Malek also said that he had seen snipers on top of buildings: “On one, there were even army officers in front of the building, while snipers were on the roof.
“Some on our team preferred to maintain good relations with the regime and denied that there were snipers.”
He said that Assad’s government “has gained a lot of time that has helped it implement its plan … Therefore I’ve decided to withdraw from this mission.”
The Arab League has not responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for a reaction to Malek’s comments.