SYRIA

No signs Syria’s al-Assad will be overthrown, France says

PARIS AND BEIRUT — Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter stands in front of a building destroyed by Syrian Army air strikes in Damascus onThursday. (GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS)

France said on Thursday there were no signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is about to be overthrown, something Paris has been saying for months was just over the horizon.

The uprising against Mr. al-Assad’s rule is now almost two years old – 60,000 Syrians have been killed and another 650,000 are now refugees abroad, according to the United Nations.

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France, a former colonial ruler of Syria, has been one of the most vocal backers of the rebels trying to topple Mr. al-Assad and was the first to recognize the opposition coalition.

“Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the [opposition] coalition to power, has not happened,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in his annual New Year’s address to the press.

Mr. Fabius told RFI radio in December “the end is nearing” for Mr. al-Assad. But on Thursday, he said international mediation and discussions about the crisis that began in March, 2011, were not getting anywhere. “There are no recent positive signs,” he said.

He said Syrian opposition leaders and representatives of some 50 nations and organizations would meet in Paris on Jan. 28 to discuss how to fulfill previous commitments.

Mr. al-Assad has resisted all attempts at forcing him to step down and has led a ruthless crackdown on what he calls foreign-backed terrorists.

The President was shown on Syrian state television on Thursday visiting a mosque to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. Mr. al-Assad shook hands with government members and smiled but did not make a speech.

Meanwhile, Syrian army forces bombarded opposition-held areas of the country with artillery and air strikes, opposition activist said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said that six civilians, including a woman and two children, were killed in Homs on Thursday when a plane bombed their house.

On the southwestern edge of the capital, artillery hit the rebel-held district of Daraya, residents in Damascus said.

“There was very loud shelling overnight from the mountain onto Daraya,” said a resident of central Damascus. Mr. al-Assad’s army has used the Qasioun mountain range to the west of Damascus as high ground to shell opposition districts.

“[The explosions] sounded like huge trucks falling from the sky, one huge truck at a time,” a resident said on condition of anonymity.

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