Assad warns Turkey of protest 'fire'

Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:39 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad, critical of Turkey's stance on the unrest in Syria, warned Monday the "fire" in Syria threatened to spread to Turkey.

Also Monday, a Russian flotilla docked at the Syrian port of Tartus to demonstrate solidarity with the Assad regime, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported. Syria's defense minister visited a Russian aircraft carrier Sunday.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet quoted Assad as saying: "If there is a fire in one room of the house, it will spread to the other rooms. To stop the fire from spreading to the other rooms and harming our brothers and sisters, we must work together to put it out."

A crowd gathered at Monument Square in Deir Ezzor to condemn a series of explosions the government said were terrorist-sponsored, the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. Participants also voiced rejection of the foreign interference in Syria's affairs.

On Friday, 26 people died in an explosion in Damascus that activists said was caused by the government but the government blamed on terrorists. On Sunday 11 Syrian soldiers were killed in attacks south of Damascus, in the town of Basr al-Harir rights observers reported.

Anti-government activists on Sunday flocked to Arab League observers the Jabal Zawiya region of Idlib to determine whether the Assad regime was ending its violent crackdown against the protesters. Video posted by activists showed league monitors wearing yellow vests surrounded by chanting protesters.

Activists also posted an Internet video that seemed to show a heavy army presence in Darkoush in Idlib on Sunday.

Arab League monitors in Syria should receive reinforcements soon after league ministers were told the controversial mission needed more time and resources to observe escalating violence, The Guardian said. However, no agreement was reached on whether the mission should seek U.N. "technical assistance" to improve its performance.

Syria has denied it hid anything from the observers after the league urged the Assad regime to improve cooperation, end violence and protect civilians.

"We let them move freely anywhere," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said after the league issued an interim report on the observers' mission. "We have provided all the things they need."

The observers, who the report said were subjected to "harassment" by the government and the opposition, also believe Assad failed to honor his regime's promise to end the violence, the report said.

But Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who led a Sunday league meeting in Cairo, said the mission had succeeded in reducing the level of killing.

Hamad, who is also Qatar's foreign minister, said he expected the violence would lessen further by the time the league issues its final report on the observer mission Jan. 19.

"If the killings continue, then the mission's presence will be useless," he told reporters.

Six army and law-enforcement personnel were buried Sunday. SANA said the officers were killed by armed terrorists Damascus and Homs.

SANA reported armed gunmen kidnapped and killed a chief warrant officer in Harasta.

Officials in Harasta also reported confiscating a vehicle they said was loaded with rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles, military uniforms, driver licenses and loudspeakers.

More than 160 people have been killed since the observer mission began Dec. 26, the umbrella anti-government activist group Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Death tolls and other accounts cannot be independently confirmed due to restrictions imposed on journalists by the Syrian government.

The United Nations estimated last month the Syrian death toll topped 5,000. Estimates of detainees run from 15,000 to 40,000.

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