Assad proposes referendum in strifetorn Syria

Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:54pm GMT

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Angus MacSwan

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian opposition leaders and the West have scorned a new offer by President Bashar al-Assad to hold multi-party elections, as his troops mounted more attacks on rebel-held areas.

Assad promised a referendum in two weeks' time on a new constitution leading to elections within 90 days, but made clear he still planned to crush the uprising against him by force.

The military unleashed a new offensive in Hama, a city with a bloody history of resistance to Assad's late father Hafez al-Assad, firing at residential neighbourhoods with anti-aircraft guns mounted on armoured vehicles, opposition activists said.

Artillery shelled parts of Homs for the 13th day in a row. In Damascus, troops swept into the Barzeh district, searching houses and making arrests, witnesses said.

France said it was negotiating a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria with Russia, Assad's ally and main arms supplier, and wanted to create humanitarian corridors to ease the plight of civilians caught up in the violence.

"The idea of humanitarian corridors that I previously proposed to allow NGOs to reach the zones where there are scandalous massacres should be discussed at the Security Council," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on French radio.

He said a U.N. General Assembly vote on Thursday on a non-binding resolution on Syria would be "symbolic." It follows a February 4 veto by Russia and China of a draft Security Council resolution that backed an Arab League call for Assad to quit.

CIVIL WAR   Continued...

Smoke is seen rising from Bab Amro near Homs February 15, 2012. REUTERS/Handout
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