Assad Sets Date for Constitution Referendum
On Wednesday, President Bashar al-Assad announced a referendum on a new constitution to be held on Feburary 26 “as part of promised political reforms.” According to a draft seen by the AP, the reforms would allow political parties other than the Baath to be officially recognized. Reportedly, the draft stated, “The state’s political system is based on political pluralism and power is practiced democratically through voting,” the president would be limited to two seven-year terms of office.
The opposition forces have stated that they will accept nothing less than the departure of President Assad. “The people in the street today have demands, and one of the demands is the departure of this regime,” said Khalaf Dahowd, a member of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria. Assad regime continued its 12-day assault on Homs, an opposition stronghold, on Wednesday. Activists said an oil pipeline in the central city of Homs was attacked, resulting in its destruction. The Syrian News Agency SANA blamed “armed terrorists” for the Wednesday’s attack.
Last week, the U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay accused the regime of gross human rights violations and excessive use of force. An estimated 5400 people have died in the last 11 months. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. In an open letter, Deputy Director of Operations of the Medecins Sans Frontieres Greg Elder decried the regimes use of hospitals as tools of oppression. “Hospitals are militarized patients arrested and tortured, medical staff followed and arrested for carrying medical supplies in their cars,” said Elder
Diplomats at the United Nations reportedly are working on a new resolution that would increase pressure and international condemnation of the Syrian regime. The resolution, authored by the Gulf States Saudi Arabia and Qatar, may be voted on by the General Assembly this week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised efforts of the Syrian regime and stated that reform efforts are “better late than never.” The Russian minister said that Moscow is “prepared to continue discussions on a U.N. Security Council resolution—as long as it takes into consideration Russia’s concerns.” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said on Wednesday that the U.N. should consider setting up “humanitarian corridors.” Whether Syria would agree or dismiss the call from humanitarian corridors remains unclear.