Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told ministers in his new cabinet Wednesday that Syria is in “a state of war,” almost two weeks after the UN called the crisis in Syria “a civil war.”
“When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war,” Al- Assad was reported to have told his cabinet in their first meeting since being sworn in on Tuesday.
Al-Assad’s declaration may have stemmed from continued demonstrations and clashes between his regime and rebel forces or from Turkey’s troop deployment along the Syrian border on Tuesday following the downing of a Turkish jet on June 22.
Hours after the statement, Ikhbariya TV, a pro-regime television station, was attacked by gunmen. The station abruptly suspended normal programming and switched instead to live coverage of the attack, showing the chaos within the production studio. Syria’s Information Minister announced that three members of the station were killed after being abducted.
The UN observer mission was forced several times to suspend its work, due to the ongoing violence. The mission was a part of an Arab League-United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point ceasefire agreement reached in April. Yet, having failed over the last three months to enforce a successful cease-fire or quell the violence, Annan called for a meeting in Geneva on Saturday to discuss the deteriorating situation. The meeting is expected to include the five permanent member-states of the United Nations Security Council as well as Syrian representatives. Annan also called for including Iran in the meeting – an invitation strongly supported by Russia.
The United States has so far refused Annan’s suggestion to include Iran. A UN spokesperson told reporters on Wednesday that “Annan will ensure Iran’s continued engagement in Syria efforts”. Two days prior to its scheduled date, no agenda has been set for the meeting, and questions still linger over whether the meeting will take place at all. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed Russia shall attend, while the United States refuted reports that it was ready – alongside the UK – to grant Al-Assad safe passage to attend the Geneva meeting.
Flashes of fierce fighting in Qadsaya and Al-Hama, 8 km from Damascus, continued on Tuesday between the Syrian Republican Guard and rebels, the AFP reported. Ten people were killed during the fighting. Syrian state television referred to the victims as “terrorists.” The Republican Guard, responsible for protecting Damascus, is led by Al-Assad’s younger brother Maher. These kinds of bold advances by the Free Syrian Army so close to Al-Assad’s home suggest the rebels are not weakened by 15 months of fighting.