Damascus rally urges Assad to crush "terrorists"

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2012 12:39 PM
Damascus rally urges Assad to crush "terrorists"

By Mariam Karouny

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Dozens of demonstrators in Damascus chanted slogans in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday and some urged him to crush armed insurgents who have joined a 10-month-old uprising against his rule.

"We are your men Bashar!" shouted some in the crowd of mostly young men. "Shabbiha forever, for your eyes Bashar," they said, using the popular term for militias that work alongside the government's security forces.

The government says it is fighting foreign-backed militants who it says have killed 2,000 members of the security forces.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed since the revolt against 41 years of Assad family rule began in March.

"We are hungry, we want to eat the (anti-government) infiltrators," some protesters shouted.

There were no signs of anti-government protests in the heart of Damascus, though videos posted by activists showed what appeared to be large demonstrations in the capital's suburbs.

A Reuters multi-media team was on a government-approved trip to Syria and was accompanied by an official.

Gathered outside the walls of Damascus's famous Omayyed mosque, Assad loyalists waved Syrian flags, as well as the yellow banner of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which is backed by Damascus and its staunch ally Tehran.

Many told Reuters they believed Assad's promises of political reform. Others said he should crush the rebels first.

Hossam Younis, an army conscript in the crowd, said Assad should use "full force" to finish off insurgents, whose armed struggle is overshadowing what began as a mostly peaceful protest movement.

"The army is facing hell from them in Homs and Hama. We do not want reforms. We want to finish those terrorists first. The people should be united against them," he said.

Other demonstrators waved Chinese flags. China and Russia have staved off U.N. Security Council action against Syria despite Western efforts to push through harsher measures.

MONITORS MINGLE

As loyalists rallied, five Arab League monitors joined Friday prayers at the Omayyed mosque, which lies within the twisting alleyways of the capital's Old City.

The mission's month-long mandate to determine if an Arab peace plan has been implemented ended on Thursday. Some have criticized the monitors for failing to halt violence. Hundreds of people have been killed since they arrived.

But monitor Jaafar al-Kubaida told Reuters the observers had fulfilled their task of checking implementation of the Arab plan that calls for an end to bloodshed, military withdrawal from cities, the release of detainees and a political dialogue.

"In what concerns those questions, we have reached answers for them," he said, though he did not disclose the conclusions.

He said the monitors, their mission for now complete, were touring the Old City and praying at the ancient mosque to "see the cultural side of Syria."

The pro-Assad demonstrators called on the monitors to come down in favour of the Syrian government. "We want the Arab League monitors to speak the truth. Be afraid of God, he will punish liars," said Issam Saleh, a public sector employee.

Others accused the League of being allied to Israel, Syria's southern neighbor with which it is still formally at war.

"If you are real Arabs, just mention what you have seen," said Midian Saleh, a government employee. "This is not an Arab League, it is a Hebrew League."

(Additional reporting by Lutfi Abu-Aun; Writing by Erika Solomon)