- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Syrians seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad’s regime and European officials on Wednesday chided Russia and China for vetoing a U.N. resolution aimed at pressuring the embattled autocracy.

Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and the European Union denounced the veto.

Alain Juppe, the foreign minister of France, which led the international effort to help rebels in Libya topple Moammar Gadhafi, said Mr. Assad is a dictator and is massacring his people. He vowed support for the anti-government protesters.

The watered-down resolution failed in a 9-2 vote at the U.N. Security Council in New York on Tuesday evening.

Russia’s and China’s actions have given a “green light to Assad’s regime to kill more innocent Syrians,” said Eyad, a resident of the Syrian capital, Damascus, who gave only his first name out of concern for his safety.

“These vetoes are no less criminal than the dictatorship of Assad. We will see how many Russian and Chinese flags will now be burned in the streets of Syria,” he said in a Skype interview.

A Syrian official praised Russia and China. Bouthaina Shaaban, a senior aide to Mr. Assad, told Agence France-Presse their veto was “historic.”

Syrian army officers sympathetic to the protesters’ cause have defected and formed a Syrian Free Army that is about 10,000-strong, according to unofficial estimates.

The group is led by Riad al-Asaad, an air force colonel who has fled to Turkey. In the past week, the Syrian military reportedly has engaged in a brutal crackdown in the town of Rastan, where some of the defectors were believed to be hiding.

Syrians, who spoke to The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity, citing concern for their safety, said the army had sealed off the town for at least five days while hunting for the defectors.

They said the military had massacred civilians and that thousands of others had been detained in the hunt for the defectors. Their claims could not be verified independently.

Col. al-Asaad has touted his growing group as an armed option against the regime.

However, not many Syrians favor the peaceful demonstrations turning into an armed struggle to overthrow the government.

“We will not fall into the trap of taking up arms to fight a civil war,” Eyad said.

Dr. Mohamed Khawwam, chairman of Syrian Emergency Task Force in the U.S., said it would be a mistake for ordinary Syrians to take up arms against the government.

He said Syrians learned their lesson from the brutal suppression of a revolt in the city of Hama in 1982. At the time, Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, was leading the country.

Thousands of people, mostly civilians, were killed in the army operation.

“The regime cracked down in Hama using the excuse that the people were armed. We will not give them that excuse again,” said Dr. Khawwam.

Syrian TV, meanwhile, aired an interview with a young woman who the opposition and Amnesty International said had been beheaded by state security agents in retribution for her brother’s role in anti-government protests.

The identity of the woman, who claimed to be Zainab al-Hosni, could not be verified independently.

Demonstrations across Syria take place under the watchful eye of the security establishment. Protesters often are outnumbered by security personnel at the gatherings.

The regime’s snipers routinely fatally shoot the leaders of these demonstrations, said Eyad, the Damascus resident.

One doctor in the capital said he sees dozens of gunshot victims after the protests that have followed Friday prayers since March.

In the southwestern city of Daraa, residents say up to 12,000 people have gone missing over the past six months.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to keep up pressure on the Assad government despite the failure of the U.N. resolution.

He said his government would impose more sanctions against Syria. Dr. Khawwam described the decision to veto the resolution as unfortunate. “These countries understand that this regime is a militarized mafia,” he said.

“We feel sorry, but it will not stop us from continuing our work to topple this regime,” he added.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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