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Toppling Assad a 'naive illusion', Iran tells rebels

Tehran dismisses rebel leader's pledge in Abu Dhabi that transitional government will be formed in weeks as 'just a dream'.

DUBAI //Iran's foreign minister yesterday dismissed a Syrian rebel plan for a transitional government in Damascus as a "naive illusion".

Ali Akbar Salehi said it was "just a dream" to suggest that the government of Bashar Al Assad could simply be replaced with another and carry on smoothly.

Mr Salehi was speaking in Tehran alongside the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Al Moualem, who had not appeared in public since a bomb attack killed four of Mr Al Assad's top security officials nearly two weeks ago.

He was responding to a pledge early yesterday in Abu Dhabi by Abdulbaset Saida, chairman of the opposition Syrian National Council, that the rebels would soon form a transitional government.

"The time frame set for this government to be formed is the next few weeks," Mr Saida said. "This government has to be set up and ready before the fall of the Assad regime."

Mr Saida was in the capital for talks with the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah, about potential financial and technical support for the opposition from the UAE.

He told an interviewer from Sky News Arabia that the transitional government proposal had been highlighted as a priority at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Doha last week.

"After the failure of Annan's plan, we will not accept any person from the regime to be in the government," he said. "The opposition groups in Syria should represent this transitional government."

Mr Saida added: "We are not going to negotiate with the killers and we will not accept anything but justice against them. However, we are open to discussions with members of the regime who have not participated in the bloodshed."

He said the SNC's transition plan would be finalised after consultations with other opposition leaders and officials of its armed wing, the Free Syrian Army.

Future solutions should not include any offer of asylum for Mr Assad, he said, and the president should eventually by tried for "massacres".

He urged Arab "brothers and friends to support the Free Syrian Army" with weapons. "We want weapons that would stop tanks and jet fighters," he said.

Last week the SNC said it would accept an interim figure from the current regime, provided Mr Assad stepped down as president.

Hours later it rescinded the offer, saying only "a national consensus figure from the opposition" would be able to lead the country in a transition phase, and such a figure would "not be part of the regime".

Mr Al Moualem said in Tehran yesterday that Syria remained committed to the six-point peace plan formulated by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy. He described it as "reasonable".

The plan calls for a ceasefire as a first stage in a political transition. It also calls for guaranteeing safe passage into Syria to distribute humanitarian aid, the release of detainees, freedom of movement for journalists and the freedom for peaceful protest.

While reiterating support for the Annan plan, Mr Al Moualem said Syria would defend every inch of its soil from what he described as a conspiracy by armed terrorist groups that served Israel's interests. "The Syrian people are insistent not just on confronting this conspiracy, but on emerging victorious."

In less than a week, he said, the rebels "were defeated in Damascus, so they moved on to Aleppo, and I assure you, their plots will fail."

Syrian troops, backed by air power and tanks, yesterday pushed on in the second day of an assault on the northern city of Aleppo, sparking international fears of a humanitarian catastrophe. Families forced out by the violence were having difficulty finding refuge with many crowded into basements seeking refuge from the intense bombardment by artillery and helicopter gunships.

Troops backed by tanks and helicopters launched a ground assault on Saturday on Salaheddin, where rebels concentrated their forces when they seized much of Aleppo on July 20. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven people were killed in Aleppo yesterday, bringing the day's nationwide death toll to 66. On Saturday, violence killed 168 people.

More than 20,000 have died in Syria since the uprising against Mr Al Assad's rule broke out in March 2011, according to the organisation.


* Reporting by Awad Mustafa, with Reuters and Agence France-Press

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