Syrians brush off Assad speech as fighting rages

Mon Jan 7, 2013 4:42pm EST
 
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By Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Fighting raged across Syria on Monday with clashes reported just a few miles from where President Bashar al-Assad had unveiled a "peace plan" that Syrians on both sides said would do nothing to end the country's 21-month-old uprising.

Hours after Assad addressed cheering loyalists at the Damascus Opera House on Sunday in his first public speech in months, fighting erupted 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 Aqraba, 3 miles from the Opera House. Fighting continued all night and into Monday around the capital, as well as in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, it said.

In central Syria, the towns of Taybet Imam and Halfaya were bombarded with aerial strikes and artillery, said Abu Faisal, an activist speaking over the internet from Taybet Imam.

"Every four to five minutes, we hear the burst from a rocket. We cannot get any wounded out because we are essentially under siege by the shelling," he said, adding that many civilians had fled. Taybet Imam sits on an entrance to Syria's main north-south highway, close to the central city of Hama.

The government restricts access by international media and the accounts could not be verified.

Damascus residents said Assad's speech, which offered no concessions to his foes, was met with celebratory gunfire in pro-Assad neighborhoods.

But even there, some saw no sign peace was closer: a loyalist resident of southern Damascus reached by internet said the speech was eloquent but empty.   Continued...

 
Civilans and Free Syrian Army fighters gather at the site hit by a missile in Aleppo's al-Mashhad district January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman