Assad blames Turkey for violence


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed the Turkish government today for violence in a 17-month-old uprising in the country, in which thousands have died.

"Turkey bears direct responsibility for the blood being shed in Syria," Dr Assad told the local television channel Addounia.

He also said his government had been aware some officials were trying to defect and allowed them to leave unhindered.

"Sometimes we had information (on defections) and we would discuss it. Some would suggest we stop them. But we said no, stopping them isn't the right thing to do, letting them leave is the right thing to do ... let's facilitate their exit," he said.

Dr Assad, who is struggling to put down a 17-month-old revolt, said such officials should be allowed to leave because it was "cleaning" the state of unpatriotic officials.

Meanwhile, Basma Kodmani, a prominent figure in the Syrian National Council (SNC) who resigned yesterday, said the umbrella opposition group had become too focused on personal agendas and needed to be replaced by a new political authority.

Speaking to Reuters today, Ms Kodmani said the SNC was not doing enough to back the increasingly militarized revolt.

"While the political role of the SNC is important, the credibility and legitimacy of a coalition of an opposition is related to its effectiveness," she said.

"My sense was that the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground and was not up to the performance I would have liked it to be," she said in a telephone interview from Paris.

Ms Kodmani, one of the few women in the SNC, headed up the group's foreign affairs bureau.

Dr Assad said talk of a Western-imposed buffer zone on Syrian territory was unrealistic and that the situation in his country was "better", but more time was needed to win the conflict against rebels trying to overthrow him.

The president, responding to rumours concerning his whereabouts since a July bombing in Damascus, said he was speaking from the presidential palace in the capital.

"I believe that talk about a buffer zone is not practical, even for those countries which are playing a hostile role (against Syria)," Dr Assad said.

Turkey has floated the idea of a "safe zone" to be set up for civilians under foreign protection as fighting has intensified in the 17-month-old uprising against Dr Assad.

French president Francois Hollande said on Monday his country supported the Turkish proposal.

Turkey once cultivated good relations with Dr Assad but turned against him over his violent response to the uprising. Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan has become one of Dr Assad's harshest critics and has raised the possibility of military intervention in Syria if Kurdish rebels became a threat there.

"Will we go backwards because of the ignorance of some Turkish officials? ... (The Turkish people) have stood by us during the crisis," Dr Assad said.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged the United Nations today to care for displaced Syrians inside their country instead of letting them flood into Turkey, which already hosts more than 80,000 refugees.

Ankara, fearing a mass influx such as the flight of half a million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War, has floated the idea of a "safe zone" under foreign protection within Syria for civilians fleeing intensifying violence.

"We expect the United Nations to engage on the topic of protecting refugees inside Syria and if possible sheltering them in camps there," Mr Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara.

Nato-member Turkey is reluctant to act alone to set up a safe haven inside Syria since protecting it from attack by Syrian forces would effectively mean military intervention.

Yet there is scant Western appetite for military action in Syria and no prospect of a UN security council mandate for it, given Russian and Chinese willingness to veto any such proposal.

Mr Davutoglu was speaking shortly before going to New York to attend a UN security council meeting on Syria tomorrow.

The United Nations says at least 18,000 people have been killed in Syria since demonstrations first erupted against Dr Assad's rule in March last year.

Mainly peaceful protests were met with force by Dr Assad's security forces, and the uprising has degenerated into a civil war with sectarian overtones.

The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are backed by regional Sunni powers.

Dr Assad, whose Alawite community is an offshoot of Shia Islam, has Iranian support.

"We are engaged in a regional and global battle and it needs time to be resolved. But I can say.... that we are making progress and the situation, practically, is better. But it has not been resolved," the Syrian leader said.

Dr Assad, who has vowed to defeat insurgents he describes as Islamist terrorists, praised the army and security forces who he said "are doing a heroic job in every sense".

"I tell the Syrian people that the fate of Syria is in their hands."


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