Bashar al-Assad claims leaked emails are a hoaxBy
• Syrian president uses Twitter to denounce revelations
• Guardian website reportedly blocked in much of Syria
• Opposition says emails reflect blase attitude to uprising
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has claimed that a cache of leaked emails obtained by the Guardian was fraudulent and designed to embarrass him and his family.
Assad took to Twitter to denounce the revelations in the only official reaction to the publication of the emails, which were leaked by activists who were given the usernames and passwords of Assad and his wife, Asma.
The Guardian’s website was also reported to have been blocked in much of Syria on Thursday in an apparent bid to prevent citizens from reading the material. Pan-Arab satellite channel Al Arabiya, which has also obtained the leaked emails, reported significant interference with its transmission signal this week.
A tweet from the @PresAssadSyria Twitter account posted late on Thursday said: “Documents published by an (sic) UK newspaper yesterday are hoaxes created against Syria and my family. BA.” The addition of the president’s initials suggests the tweet may have been personally posted by the Syrian leader.
Syrian activists and opposition figures reacted to the emails with outrage, claiming they showed a leader who was blase about the year-long uprising in their country.
The regime’s brutal attempts to put down the revolution have been heavily condemned internationally.
The regime crackdown continued on Thursday on the first anniversary of the uprising, which broke out in the southern town of Deraa.
Demonstrators again took to the streets of the town now hailed as the birthplace of the Syrian revolution, despite the presence of a vast number of security personnel who have deployed there in recent days.
Large pro-regime rallies were also held in Damascus and in Aleppo, Syria’s second city. Syrian opposition activists claimed government workers had been instructed to attend the show of support for Assad, who retains a firm hold on power despite the protracted challenge to his authority.
The embattled leader appears to have made inroads into flashpoint areas in the rest of the country, especially Homs and Idlib, which were opposition strongholds until they capitulated in the face of military assaults.
Opposition activists believe Deraa will be the next target for the military. Tanks on Thursday remained on the outskirts of the besieged town and clashes were sporadic and confined to areas near demonstration flashpoints.
Activists said about 40 people were killed nationwide in clashes on Thursday. The daily death toll in Syria has been at, or higher, than that level for much of the past six months as a series of rolling protests steadily transformed into a blazing insurgency that pitched an almost exclusively rebel army of defectors and armed citizens against a loyalist military, whose leaders are drawn largely from the Assad clan’s Allawite sect.
The insurgency has clearly faltered in recent weeks, with the Free Syria Army withdrawing from its stronghold in the Baba Amr district of Homs as regime troops advanced. The northern city of Idlib, also a rebel bastion, fell earlier this week after a short battle.
There is also growing concern about the faltering diplomatic track, with Syria’s fractured main opposition movement further weakened this week by the resignation of key members who were apparently dejected by the government’s recent advances.
A year after the popular protests in Deraa, the Syrian opposition remains unable to provide a viable alternative to the four decades of clan rule in the country and its executive committee remains divided on key strategic issues.
Western and Arab diplomacy has also failed to make inroads, with Russia, China and Iran providing unwavering cover to Assad who faces no credible threat of a Libya-style military move to oust him.
Instead there are increasing western moves to engage elements of the Syrian regime, who fear a future without Assad but are not unconditionally aligned to his regime.
“There is the Sunni business elite and others in the regime who are more distant from the family itself,” said a western diplomat this week, explaining that efforts are being mounted to communicate with them. They need to feel that they are not in the same corner as Assad. They need to know that they will not be tarred with the same brush.
“We are not saying that the entire machine has to be dismantled. That was the great lesson of Iraq: de-Ba’ath-ification was not a great day-after strategy.”
Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy for Syria is yet to respond in full to a response he received on Thursday from Damascus to his push this week to broker a peace deal. The Syrian response is believed to have conditioned a ceasefire on opposition militias also downing their weapons.
During weekend meetings in Damascus with Assad, Annan said a solution to the crisis lies in “political settlement”.
Opposition activists have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with the regime and will accept nothing less than Assad surrendering power.
from Martin Chulov