Assad defiant as Syrian party HQ hit by RPGs

The headquarters of the Syrian ruling party in Damascus has been shelled with rocket propelled grenades on Sunday, with the armed branch of the opposition claiming responsibility. The violence erupted hours after the Arab League ultimatum expired.

­At least two rocket propelled grenades were fired at the Baath Party headquarters in Damascus early on Sunday. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, however. According to local media the building was mostly empty at the time of the attack.

“The attack was just before dawn and the building was mostly empty. It seems to have been intended as a message to the regime,” confirmed a witness, as cited by Reuters.

It was the first insurgent attack reported in Damascus since the uprising against the Assad regime began in mid-March.

­Arab League ultimatum

The attack came hours after the deadline for Bashar al-Assad to put an end to the violence and accept the Arab League’s peace plan expired at 2200 GMT on Saturday.

In its ultimatum, the Arab League had requested a pullout of military force from Syrian cities and an immediate end to violence against the protesters. The league has already suspended Syria from the block and threatened more sanctions if the regime continues the bloodshed.

On Friday, Syria agreed in principle to allow Arab observers into the country to oversee a peace plan, though the agreement in writing was not concluded. Some critics accused Assad of stalling the situation after the Syrian government suggested amendments to the plan.

­However, according to the latest information, the Arab League has rejected these amendments in a letter from Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, which was sent to Syria's foreign minister.

"The additions requested by the Syrian counterpart affect the heart of the protocol and fundamentally change the nature of the mission," the letter said, according to Reuters.

Comments from Arab League sources say that the mission's visit is now in question because a protocol with the League remains unsigned by the Syrian side.

According to the plan, some 500 observers were expected to come to Syria, including representatives of human rights organizations, journalists, doctors, lawyers and civilian experts. The Syrian government agreed to secure a free movement across the country for the observers.

­International reaction

­Russian officials are expressing their concern over the latest developments in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that if pressure is to be put on Syria, it should not only be directed to the government, but also to the opposition, which is increasingly armed at the moment.

“We suggest that in order to put the Arab initiative in place, all countries concerned with the peaceful outcome of developments should demand not only from the Syrian authorities, but also from the opposition that they stop their violence,” he said. “The ongoing attacks on government buildings in Syria look like a civil war.”

Meanwhile, the pressure on Syria is becoming increasingly organized. King Abdullah of Jordan had asked that the UK spearhead this campaign, having seen “the success of the Libyan intervention.” Reports say that a diplomat has already been appointed by Jordanian leadership to liaise directly with the Syrian opposition.

Jordan and Turkey are considering creating buffer zones within Syria for civilians and rebels who are fighting against the regime. If these plans go through, this would essentially mean operating within the borders of a sovereign nation.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that it is simply too late for any reforms to be implemented in Syria.

Therefore, the international community and members of the UN Security Council remain divided over the situation in Syria. There are members who are keen to isolate Assad, and others, like Russia and China, who are still hoping for a peaceful political solution.

With Russia and China having already vetoed the previous tough UN resolution on Syria, the UK, France and Germany may now try to pull a new one through the Human Rights Committee of the UN General Assembly, where there are no vetoes.

­Assad vows to continue 'enforcing law and order'

­Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad said he would continue to fight against the militants, despite the increasing international pressure on Syria.

“The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue,” he said in an interview with Sunday Times newspaper. “However, I assure you that Syria will not bow down and that it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it.”

Assad also commented the Arab League’s demand to pull the military out of the cities, saying that plan would not stop the violence.

“The only way is to search for the armed people, chase the armed gangs, prevent the entry of arms and weapons from neighboring countries, prevent sabotage and enforce law and order,” he said.

Assad still insists that his country is under constant attacks by groups of armed terrorists, who pretend to be peaceful protesters and infuse the violence.

The president, however, acknowledged some mistakes and the use of excessive force were taking place, but assured that those who were guilty in firing at unarmed protesters or giving orders to do so have been detained.

“We, as a state, do not have a policy to be cruel with citizens,” Assad said.

The Syrian leader also pointed out that the opposition exaggerates the number of people, who were killed since the uprising began, and said that the real figures are far from the 3,500 deaths reported by the UN.

According to the Assad, the official number of civilian deaths is 619, with most of them occurring during the crossfire between the military and armed gangs. Assad also said that the anti-regime riots across the country had taken the lives of many of his supporters among the civilians and more than 800 police officers and soldiers.

Meanwhile the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees claims the regime’s latest attacks on opposition groups occurred early Saturday, a day after 16 civilians, including two children, were reportedly killed by government forces.