Just words

opposition rejects assad speech, bracing for more fighting

BEIRUT — Syrians said today they expected only war after a speech by President Bashar al-Assad that was billed as a peace plan, and fighting resumed in the capital just a few miles from where he spoke.

Hours after Assad addressed cheering loyalists at the Damascus Opera House yesterday, clashes raged just a few miles away near the road to the city’s international airport, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The opposition-linked group said artillery hit the district of Arqaba, three miles from the Opera House. Fighting continued all night and into today around the capital, as well as in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, it said.

Damascus residents said the speech was met with celebratory gunfire in pro-Assad neighbourhoods. But even there, some saw no sign peace was any closer, although the cabinet was due to begin implementing the plan to “solve the crisis in Syria”.

A loyalist resident of southern Damascus who gave only her first name, Aliaa, said the speech was eloquent but empty.

“It sounded more like gloating than making promises,” she said.

“I agree with the ideas but words are really just words until he takes some action.”

In the once-affluent district of Mezzeh, scene of several bomb attacks, an Assad critic said people had more pressing concerns.

“Here, no one cares about this speech. They care about food and electricity.”

Another said few people had watched the speech and that Assad’s crackdown would not stop.

France joined the United States in saying Assad’s speech, his first to an audience since June last year, showed he had lost touch with reality after 21 months of conflict in which the United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed. (Reuters)

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