Syria Promises Reform While Crackdown Continues

February 15, 2012 Updated: June 8, 2012

Syrian President Bashar Assad called for a constitutional referendum on Wednesday to end decades of single-party rule—meanwhile, government forces resumed the bombing and assault on the flashpoint city of Homs.

State-run media said that the Baath Party, which has ruled the country for nearly 50 years, mainly under Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, could be replaced by another party if the constitution is changed, reported Al-Jazeera.

When the new constitution is approved, Syria will have passed the most important stage and would provide a “brilliant future for [the] next generations,” Assad said, according to the television station.

Despite the announcement, activists with the Local Coordination Committees said on Wednesday that government’s “violent shelling” rocked Homs, killing several people. A mosque in a neighborhood in Baba Amro was bombed, it reported.

Activists estimate that hundreds of people have been killed in Homs in the past two weeks. The army started shelling neighborhoods after China and Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria. U.N. rights head Navi Pillay said that the government’s attack on Homs constitutes crime against humanity, which Syrian officials have denied.

Assad, who took over Syria after his father died in 2000, officially ended the country’s perpetual state of emergency last April. The state of emergency had been instated in the early 1960s when the Baath Party took over in a coup. The younger Assad at the time promised extensive reforms which the U.N., Arab League, and human rights activists say have not been delivered.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday called the constitutional referendum “a mockery of the Syrian revolution.”

“Promises of reforms have usually been followed by an increase in brutality and have never been delivered upon by this regime since the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations,” Carney added.

Carney also said that evidence shows the regime is on its last legs. High-ranking officials have been shifting assets out of Syria and making arrangements to get their families out of the country. “The fact of the matter is the Assad regime’s days are numbered,” said Carney.