Bloomberg News

Syria Defectors Claim Attacks as Arabs Meet for Crisis Talks

November 17, 2011

(Updates with activist’s comments in fifth paragraph, embassies in sixth, Assad cousin’s comments starting in ninth.)

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Defectors from Syria’s forces said they carried out attacks on military intelligence units, as the Arab League prepared for crisis talks on President Bashar al- Assad’s eight-month crackdown on dissent.

The Free Syrian Army, using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, assaulted a base near Damascus linked to Air Force Intelligence early today, Ammar al-Wawi, a defector who is among its leaders, said by phone from an undisclosed location without giving details. Yesterday, the rebel force destroyed an armored personnel carrier at a base used by the intelligence agency in the city of Aleppo, he said. Air Force Intelligence has helped the government put down the protests.

The claim by the Free Syrian Army, which says more than 25,000 officers and soldiers have defected to the group, comes amid an upsurge of violence across the country this week that included an ambush targeting Assad’s forces. The attack by defectors left 34 government soldiers dead, pushing the number of people killed on Nov. 14 to as many as 90, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said today by telephone from Cairo.

The Arab League’s representatives gathered today in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss possible measures to influence Assad amid signs of mounting international pressure on him, including calls for him to quit. The group suspended Syria’s membership Nov. 12 as the government continued its assaults after agreeing 10 days before to the bloc’s plan for ending the bloodshed.

Assad’s ‘Last Days’

“These are the last days of Bashar al-Assad,” Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said today in a telephone interview.

France is withdrawing its ambassador to Syria after embassies and consulates of various countries were attacked in Damascus this week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today during a parliamentary debate in Paris. The embassies of Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in Syria were attacked today, Al Arabiya television reported.

Arab and Turkish foreign ministers, meeting today in Rabat before the Cairo-based League’s discussions begin, called for a solution to the violence that respects Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“The ministers stressed the importance of the stability and unity of Syria and the need for the resolution of the crisis without any foreign intervention,” according to a joint statement.

League’s Terms

The Arab League said Syria will be barred from the group’s meetings until it withdraws tanks from cities, releases detained protesters and starts supervised talks with the opposition. It called on all Arab countries to withdraw ambassadors, and said it plans economic and political sanctions.

“I welcome the steps that the Arab League have taken,” Ribal al-Assad, 36, a cousin of the Syrian leader who heads the London-based Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, said in a telephone interview today. Syria agreed to the Arab League’s proposal “but then didn’t stop the repression or pull the army from the streets or start a dialogue or allow observers into the country,” he said. “The Syrian regime has been lying and they can’t continue to lie.”

Assad “cannot stay,” he said. “We want an all-inclusive transitional government in Syria, if not there is going to be a civil war.”

Detainees Freed

Syria said yesterday that it had freed 1,180 detainees involved in protests who are “without blood on their hands.” To mark the Muslim observance of Eid al-Adha, which started Nov. 6, Syria had already released 553 other detainees “involved in the events,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said.

A group of activists and opposition figures were meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi in Cairo today, Merei said.

“We want to stress in our meeting that we are against foreign military intervention as well as a no-fly zone,” Merei said. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened in Libya in our country,” he said. “We want change, for the regime to go, however we want to preserve our army and limit the bloodshed.”

Turkey suspended joint oil and gas exploration in Syria yesterday, a day after the European Union widened its sanctions and King Abdullah of Jordan said Assad should step down. In Saudi Arabia, the Jeddah-based Arab News, which has links to the kingdom’s royal family, published an editorial Nov. 14 with the headline “It is time for Assad to go.”

‘Regime Won’t Survive’

“The regime will not survive this crisis,” Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the U.S. and former head of intelligence, said yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington. “I don’t see any possibility where Assad can resume a normal relationship” with his people.

Turki added that countries concerned about the situation “do not have the same range of options as we did on Libya.”

The Syrian National Council, made up of leading opposition figures, said it was working for a United Nations resolution to protect the Syrian people. Assad should announce his intention to abandon power and implement the conditions set out by the Arab League before any dialogue with the opposition can start, Burhan Ghalioun, the council’s head, said after talks with Russian officials in Moscow yesterday.

More than 4,500 protesters have been killed since the unrest broke out in mid-March, according to Merei and Qurabi. The UN estimates more than 3,500 deaths. Assad has blamed foreign provocateurs and Islamic militants for the violence.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem called the Arab League’s decision to suspend the country’s membership “very dangerous” and said the bloc had given in to external pressure. U.S. support for the organization’s decision was “incitement,” he said Nov. 14.

--With assistance from Abdel Latif Wahba, Ola Galal and Aida Alami in Cairo, Nayla Razzouk in Dubai, Gregory Viscusi in Paris, Glen Carey and Mourad Haroutunian in Riyadh, Caroline Alexander in London, Mohammad Tayseer in Amman, and Nadeem Hamid and Nicole Gaouette in Washington. Editors: Heather Langan, Karl Maier, Louis Meixler

To contact the reporters on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at mderhally@bloomberg.net; Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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