Arab League accuses Syria over attacks on observers, as Bashar al-Assad blames 'foreign conspiracy'


A Syrian woman holds up a picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as she follows his speech on television at a cafe in Damascus today.



The Arab League has condemned the Syrian government over violence against its observers, 11 of whom were injured in an attack yesterday.

President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, accused the League of joining an "external conspiracy" against Syria.

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In a speech broadcast live on Syrian TV this morning, Reuters reported, Assad repeated his claim that "outside planning" was behind months of violence, saying: "The outside now includes Arabs."

According to the Associated Press, the president threatened retaliation against the "terrorists" said to be responsible:

"Our priority now is to regain security which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron hand.

"We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country."

Assad maintained, however, that security forces had not been ordered to fire on civilians – "only in self-defence or during a clash with an armed person."

His claim contradicts protesters' and soldiers' accounts, a United Nations report, and Arab League observers, who have described seeing government snipers posted on roof tops.

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The Arab League today accused Assad's forces of failing to ensure the safety of its monitors, a group of whom were attacked by demonstrators in the northern city of Latakia yesterday. Footage of the incident appeared to show Assad supporters swarming the monitors' vehicle, the AP reported.

In a statement this morning, the League said:

"Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments."

The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, called on both the government and opposition to stop "instigation," warning that violence against observers would force the League to end its mission in Syria.

The mission has been criticized for being too small and too tightly controlled by the Syrian government to be effective. In his speech today, President Assad, too, accused the League of impotence:

"The Arab League failed for six decades to protect Arab interests. We shouldn't be surprised it's failed today."

According to the BBC, the defiant speech was "a message that there will be no concessions and its main theme was that nothing is going to change as far as the Syrian response is concerned."

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