Defying global pressure, Iran and Syria flex muscles Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declares imminent unveiling of nuclear capability, says his country will never succumb to pressure • Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad kill at least 100 people over the weekend. Daniel Siryoti, Lior Yacoby, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies Strength in numbers? Ahmadinejad, seen here, and Assad, refuse to back down. | Photo credit: AFP << 1 2 >> In blatant disregard for mounting international pressure, the regimes in both Syria and Iran flexed their muscles over the weekend, with Iran declaring imminent nuclear capability and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad massacring close to 100 people. Speaking at a rally marking 33 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad declared Saturday that Iran would soon unveil its nuclear capabilities to the world and exclaimed that Iran would not succumb to any pressure from its enemies. At the rally, demonstrators carrying Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” Ahmadinejad’s comments came against the backdrop of toughening sanctions and growing international pressure aimed at blocking Iran’s nuclear aspirations. The West suspects that Iran’s nuclear program is working to produce atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it is geared for peaceful purposes only, such as energy production. Four rounds of U.N. sanctions as well as blistering financial penalties levied by the U.S. and the European Union have failed to convince Iran to halt the aspects of its atomic work that could lead to weapons production. “Within the next few days the world will witness the inauguration of several big new achievements in the nuclear field,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd in Tehran’s famous Azadi, or Freedom, Square, adding that the achievements include, “the development and operation of new nuclear projects.” Iran has argued that international sanctions have forced it to independently manufacture nuclear fuel rods, which provide fuel for reactors, as it is unable to purchase them on foreign markets. In January, Iran said it had produced its first such fuel rod. Apart from progress on the rods, the aforementioned nuclear unveiling could pertain to Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordo, or to upgraded centrifuges expected to be installed at the facility in the central town of Natanz. Iran has also said it would inaugurate the Russian-built nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr during 2012. Ahmadinejad also said during his speech that while his country continues to develop its nuclear program, it is ready for talks with the West. “Iran is ready for talks within the framework of equality and justice,” the Iranian president reiterated on Saturday, but he also warned that Tehran “will never enter talks if enemies behave arrogantly.” In what has become routine during such speeches, Ahmadinejad also attacked the U.S. and Israel. “The Iranian nation has smashed a new and modern idol. The world’s arrogance and colonialists, in order to dominate the world, created an idol called the Zionist regime [Israel],” Ahmadinejad said, according to the French news agency AFP. “The spirit of this idol was a story called the Holocaust ... The Iranian nation with courage and wisdom smashed this idol to free the people of the West [of its hold],” Ahmadinejad added. Before Ahmadinejad spoke Saturday, Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, currently visiting Iran, also addressed the crowd. Haniyeh offered congratulations on the Islamic Revolution anniversary as well as a vow that Hamas would never recognize Israel. During his visit to Tehran, Haniyeh also met with Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, who stressed his country’s unconditional support for the Palestinian people in its resistance against Israel. “Soon the Zionist regime will be punished for its plots and aggression,” AFP quoted Rahimi as saying. “The Palestinian issue is a red line for us,” he added, stressing that Iran would use “everything at its disposal” to support the “oppressed” Palestinians. Haniyeh was also scheduled to meet with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, later this week. Meanwhile, more than 100 people died in continuing violence in Syria over the weekend, as forces loyal to Assad hunkered down against the “Free Syrian Army,” a group of army defectors who joined the opposition. The weekend’s death toll, including at least 80 people killed in Homs and 20 more killed in other parts of the country, is added to the thousands of people already killed in the 11-month uprising against Assad’s regime. According to the U.N., some 7,000 people have lost their lives so far in the violence. Satellite image provider DigitalGlobe Inc. released photos Friday that appear to show Syrian army tanks and other armored vehicles in the city of Homs. DigitalGlobe said the images were taken late Friday morning Syrian time by the company’s WorldView 2 satellite from about 480 miles (772 kilometers) above the Earth. Stephen Wood, director of DigitalGlobe’s analysis center, said the photos show tanks, armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles in the southern part of the city, some of them near apartment buildings. The satellite images show an increase in the level of army activity in and around Homs from the previous 24 hours, Wood said. Fighting in Homs has reportedly killed hundreds of people over the past week from bombardments followed by soldiers’ advances. Wood said no battle damage was visible in the photos taken Friday, but previous images captured by the company’s satellites did show the effects of fighting. Homs looks deserted, with very few cars on the streets in the satellite photos, he said. DigitalGlobe company has been gathering satellite photos of Syria since mid-2011, he said. The images were taken the day that two suicide bombers attacked security compounds in the Syrian city of Aleppo, killing 28 people, according to Syrian government officials. Troops and security forces fired on anti-regime protesters as they left mosques after Friday prayers nationwide. Arab media reports on Saturday quoted U.S. officials saying there was evidence of al-Qaida involvement in the attacks in Aleppo. In Damascus, three masked gunmen shot dead a senior Syrian military doctor outside his home in on Saturday, Syrian news agency SANA reported. It blamed an “armed terrorist group” for the assassination of Brig. Gen. Issa al-Khouli, whom it described as a doctor and hospital director. Khouli was the most senior figure to have been reported killed in Damascus since the beginning of the uprising in mid-March of last year. Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the Arab League - which suspended Syria from their organization in response to the bloody crackdown against civilians - were scheduled to meet in Riyadh on Sunday to discuss additional measures against Assad and his regime. The measures include potentially accepting the Syrian National Council - the opposition’s Istanbul-based government-in-exile - as a member of the Arab League. The ministers will also reportedly discuss deploying a joint U.N.-Arab monitoring team to Syria in place of the Arab League observer mission that was suspended last month. The U.N. General Assembly is due to discuss Syria on Monday and vote later in the week on a draft resolution that “fully supports” an Arab League plan floated last month.
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