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Syria: No dialogue before it crushes rebels

BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian regime said Monday there will be no dialogue with the opposition before the army crushes the rebels, the latest sign that President Bashar Assad is determined to solve the crisis on the battlefield even if many more of his people have to pay with their lives.

The statement comes a day after activists reported that August was the bloodiest month since the uprising began in March 2011.

“There will be no dialogue with the opposition prior to the Syrian army’s imposition of security and stability in all parts of the country,” Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told reporters at a news conference in Damascus.

The opposition has long rejected any talks with the regime until Assad is removed from power.

Muhieddine Lathkani, an opposition figure based in Britain, responded to the minister’s comments by saying “the key to any dialogue will be the departure of Assad and dismantling of the regime’s security agencies that committed all these crimes.”

Lathkani told The Associated Press by telephone that after that happens, there could be a dialogue.

Earlier in the day, the new U.N. envoy to Syria acknowledged that brokering an end to the civil war will be a “very, very difficult” task.

Activists on Sunday said some 5,000 people were killed in August, the highest toll in the 17-month-old uprising and more than three times the monthly average.

At the same time, the U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, said 1,600 were killed last week alone, also the highest figure for the entire revolt.

The two major activists groups raised their total death toll for the entire revolt to at least 23,000 and as high as 26,000.

The civil war witnessed a major turning point in August when Assad’s forces began widely using air power for the first time to try to put down the revolt. The fighting also reached Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, which had been relatively quiet for most of the uprising.

Last week, Assad said in an interview that his armed forces will need time to defeat the rebels, an acknowledgement that his regime is struggling to defeat the tenacious rebels and another indication that the civil war will be even more drawn out and bloody.

In the latest violence on Monday, activists said more than 100 people were killed — many of them in two air raids that knocked out large parts of buildings in the northern province of Aleppo. Government warplanes bombed the town of Al-Bab killing at least 19 people and the Aleppo neighborhood of Myasar where 10 people, including four children, were killed.

France warns of Syrian chemical weapons attack

PARIS (AP) — Western powers are preparing a tough response if Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime deploys chemical or biological weapons in its civil war, key European officials warned Monday.

Syria’s leadership has said the country, which is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas and Scud missiles capable of delivering them, could use chemical or biological weapons if it were attacked from outside.

“Our response ... would be massive and blistering,” if Assad’s forces used such weapons, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RMC radio.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons he had asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to begin preparations so the U.N. could quickly deploy experts to make checks if “we have any reports of such chemical weapons being used or moved.”

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