Syria in 'real state of war' - Assad


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said today his country was in a state of war and ordered his newly appointed government to direct all its efforts towards vanquishing the uprising against him.


"We live in a real state of war from all angles," Dr Assad told a cabinet he appointed today in a speech aired on Syrian state television.

"When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war."

Dr Assad dismissed the arguments of Western countries that have been calling for him to step aside. The West "takes and never gives and this has been proven at every stage," he said."We want good relations with all countries but we must know where our interests lie," he said.

Syrian rebels aired footage today of burnt-out tanks as well as a helicopter engulfed in smoke and flames which they said they had destroyed after it landed in a field in northern Idlib province carrying Syrian special forces.

An amateur video posted on the Internet showed a military helicopter with its blades spinning as if it had just landed.

"Special forces are being deployed from a helicopter to kill civilians in (the town) of Mar Dibsi," a voice off screen says breathlessly to the sound of gunfire. A second video, which appears to be from the same town, shows the helicopter in flames, with a white rotor blade poking out of the plumes of smoke.

Other videos posted yesterday by rebels who are fighting to oust Dr Assad showed the burnt-out shells of four tanks and two BMPs - Russian-made tracked infantry fighting vehicles.

One video showed a man firing rocket-propelled grenades at a passing tank.

Access to Syria is restricted by the government and Reuters is unable to verify such reports.The lightly armed rebel Free Syrian Army is dwarfed by Dr Assad's forces, which the United Nations accuses of killing more than 10,000 people during the 16-month revolt.

In Damascus, government forces battled rebels in what activists said was the worst violence in the suburbs of the capital since the uprising against Dr Assad began 16 months ago

Video published by activists recorded heavy gunfire and explosions. A trail of fresh blood on a sidewalk in the suburb of Qudsiya led into a building where one casualty was taken. A naked man writhed in pain, his body pierced by shrapnel.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said "armed terrorist groups" had blocked the old road from Damascus to Beirut.

"The clashes led to the killing of tens of terrorists, wounding a large number of them, arresting others and seizing

their weapons which included RPG launchers, sniper rifles, machine guns and a huge amount of ammunition," the agency said.

Syrian state television said rebels had kidnapped four-star airforce general Faraj Shahadeh from his home in the heart of Damascus today, and that a special forces unit was trying to rescue him. It gave no further details.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting near the Republican Guard headquarters in Qudsiya, and in the Damascus suburbs of al-Hama and Mashrou' Dumar, just 9 km outside the capital.

It said 38 civilians and 24 troops had been killed during the day across Syria.Samir al-Shami, an activist in Damascus, said tanks and armoured vehicles were out on the streets of the suburbs and some activists reported that one tank had been blown up.

The British-based Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said security forces and armoured

vehicles stormed the neighbourhood of Barzeh, an opposition toehold inside Damascus, and there were sounds of heavy gunfire.

The revolt against Dr Assad's rule has intensified in response to an army crackdown, becoming a civil war. At least 10,000 people have been killed since March 2011 according to the United Nations.

Diplomats say the actual number is much higher.Fighting is now frequent in Damascus, once considered a

bastion of Dr Assad. The observatory said over 100 people had been killed in violence yesterday, including 65 civilians and at least 31 members of the security forces.

The highest reported death tolls were in southern Deraa, where at least 18 were killed including a family of four who

were executed, and in eastern Deir al-Zor, where 17 people lost their lives, the activist centre said.

Video shot by activists in the city of Homs showed detonations from heavy weapons and fiery plumes of black smoke rising over the rooftops of smashed and abandoned buildings. Aid workers were on their way back to Homs to try to evacuate trapped civilians and wounded, but negotiations are still under way to secure safe access, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in Geneva.

"We cannot foresee when the team will be able to do so."

ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi told Reuters.Aid workers have sought access to the flashpoint city since government forces and opposition groups agreed last week to the agency's request for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.

SANA said members of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) toured Tartous province yesterday and "inspected the calm, security and stability prevailing". The 300-strong UN monitoring mission was suspended 10 days ago because it was considered too dangerous to carry on sending teams out to supervise a truce that exists on paper only.

UN special envoy Kofi Annan, who crafted the failed ceasefire and monitoring plan in April, wants the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and governments with influence on Dr Assad or the rebels to decide what to do next, at a meeting pencilled in for June 30th in Geneva.

Mr Annan says Dr Assad's ally Iran should be at the table, but the involvement of Tehran is opposed by the United States, Britain and France.

Meanwhile, Turkey will treat any Syrian military units which approach its border as a threat and a military target, prime minister Tayyip Erdogan warned today.

Mr Erdogan also said Turkey was totally in the right over Syria's shooting down of a Turkish plane and that Ankara's rational response to the incident should not be mistaken for weakness.

"Everybody should know that Turkey's wrath is just as strong and devastating," Mr Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling AK Party deputies in parliament.The army's rules of engagement along the two countries' border had now changed, he said.

"Every military element approaching Turkey from the Syrian border and representing a security risk and danger will be assessed as a military threat and will be treated as a military target," he said.

Turkey has demanded backing from its Nato allies over the shoot down and has called a meeting in Brussels under Article 4 of the alliance's charter, which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity or security is under threat.

Turkey has rejected assertions from Damascus that its forces had no option but to fire on the F-4 jet as it flew over Syrian waters close to the coast on Friday and has branded the shooting an "act of aggression". It says the aircraft was an unarmed reconnaissance plane flying over international waters.

The incident has heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria already strained over the 16-month uprising against Dr Assad's rule.