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11 Jan, 2012 18:53

Syria’s trouble: Civilian death toll continues to climb

A French journalist has been killed and several others wounded in the city of Homs, while covering an anti-government rally. The violence comes hours after President Bashar al-Assad addressed the nation for the second time in less than 24 hours.

The 41-year French cameraman, Gilles Jacquier, died after a shell exploded near a group of journalists. Some unconfirmed reports say that another eight people also died in the attack, which was condemned by the Arab League observers currently in the country, as well as by the French government. Militants in Homs have blamed Assad’s government for the violence. Syria’s president in turn blamed the country’s unrest on “terrorists” and vowed to “triumph over the conspiracy” that he believes is behind the large-scale opposition protests in his country over the last ten months. But while many are skeptical about the notion of an outside conspiracy at play, independent news editor James Corbett told RT that although recently most people have come to associate conspiracies with paranoia and fantasy, when Assad speaks of such things, his claims are actually supported by evidence. “This is in fact not something that is open to debate”, Corbett told RT. “It was actually revealed in documents that were leaked from the US State Department last April that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the US State Department had pumped at least $6 million secretly and covertly into Syrian opposition groups. So when he [Assad] talks about a conspiracy to overthrow his government, it did come out in actual documents last year.” But one of the biggest problems Syria faces right now, according to Professor Mark Almond, is the state of the stand-off it finds itself in. “President Assad has a lot of support, the armed opposition has support – we don’t really know what ordinary people think”, Almond told RT. “But I think one of the things President Assad is trying to do is say ‘do you want to see a Libyan-style civil war and chaos, or the sort of thing that happened in Iraq a few years ago?’ And that’s quite a powerful argument for people; not necessarily to be die-hard supporters, but certainly not to want to see themselves die in a brutal civil conflict that could spiral out of control.”

'Damascus would not shoot at a pro-government rally’

While the opposition moved quickly to lay blame for the killing of the French journalist on President Assad, Hisham Jaber, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies, says the regime "would have little interest in shooting at its supporters.""It is silly to accuse the Syrian government of this," Jaber told RT. "The opposition’s news release is part of a psychological warfare. But this is not credible, in my opinion."