Assad confident, but victory over rebels 'needs more time'


SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad said yesterday that his country was “fighting a regional and local battle” but “victory needs more time”.

In a confident and defiant interview with Syria’s Duniya channel, he stated, “We can shorten this process. We are moving forward. The situation is . . . getting better” on the practical level.

He dismissed defectors as “unpatriotic”, said their departure was “positive”, praised the “heroic conduct” of the armed forces, criticised countries supporting the rebels, and spoke of the “strong bond between the policies of the state and the people.

“Everyone is worried about their country, that is normal.

“But [rebels] will not be able to spread fear . . . I say to Syrians, destiny is in your hands, and not in the hands of others.” Proposals for safe zones for refugees in Syria were “unrealistic” and put forward by “the enemies of Syria”.

While he said the government was ready for “open debate with all political forces,” he made a distinction between a “national opposition” seeking reform and opponents who sought aid and funds from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The conflict in Syria, he said, is “not an Arab spring or a revolution but terrorism” promoted from outside the country.

On the ground, the army, reportedly, shelled the Ghouta region, east of Damascus, and took up positions on the highway that divides the area from the city in response to rebel Free Syrian Army hit- and-run attacks on military checkpoints.

Rebels also claimed to have raided a warehouse in the Ghouta and captured 10 surface-to-air missiles, while fighters in the north said they had advanced on a strategic military airbase near Taftanaz from which fighter planes and helicopters have been flying missions in Idlib and Aleppo. State media said the attack had been foiled.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated his call for the UN to establish a “safe zone” for Syrian refugees in northern Syria instead of permitting them to flow across the border into Turkey which hosts 80,000.

However, his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, warned that creating such a zone was “very complicated” and would necessitate a partial aerial exclusion zone.

Reporting from the town of Darayya, where opposition activists claimed the army had massacred 400, the London Independent’s Robert Fisk said the killing may have resulted from a failed exchange of prisoners captured by the army and hostages seized by the rebels. The army apparently entered the town when negotiations collapsed.

Residents told Fisk many of the dead were government employees, including a postman, conscripts, and relatives of soldiers who were slain by rebels. Fisk said an investigation to determine perpetrators “was virtually impossible”.

Meanwhile, a clandestine camp surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards has been established in Jordan for 1,200 defected senior Syrian police and army officers who live in trailers and spend their days surfing the internet and watching television.

Their accommodation is far better than the tented camp housing 17,000 civilians, who mounted a protest against harsh conditions on Tuesday, prompting the Jordanian government to threaten to deport those involved.