19 Aug 2011

Syria dismisses calls for leader to step down

9:40 pm on 19 August 2011

Syria has dismissed calls by the United States and its allies for President Bashar al-Assad to step down as "pitiful and illegitimate".

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations has accused America of launching what he called a humanitarian and diplomatic war against his country.

He says the Syrian security forces had stopped all operations against protesters.

While there don't appear to be any major military campaigns going on at the moment, activists say there have been numerous incidents in Homs, Latakia and other areas involving in some cases the movement of armoured vehicles and heavy shooting, the BBC reports.

The reported casualty figures, which cannot be verified, are lower than average during this fasting month of Ramadan when overnight protests have been frequent.

The real test of President Assad's assertion that all army and police operations against civilians has stopped will come with Friday prayers, which have been the springboard for demonstrations since the uprising began five months ago.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is to send a humanitarian mission to Syria at the weekend to assess the situation, as European powers launch a campaign for sanctions against Mr Assad.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced the mission after a Security Council briefing.