Assad says he will step down only if rejected in elections


SYRIAN PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad said yesterday he was prepared to step down if Syrians reject him in an election but insisted he will not “accept anything imposed from outside”.

While an election cannot be organised at present due to the conflict between the government and rebels, if violence is halted and groups disarmed a poll could be organised, he suggested.

Mr Assad made his comments in an interview with the Turkish newspaper Chumhurriyet.

He said he apologised for the shooting down by Syrian gunners of a Turkish warplane which had entered Syrian airspace near the port of Latakia on June 22nd.

“The route used by the Turkish plane was the same as the one used by Israeli planes when they attempted to enter our airspace three years ago.

“Therefore, any plane coming from that direction is perceived by the Syrian military as an Israeli plane.”

He said the plane, a US-manufactured F4 (Phantom) also in service with Israel, had entered Syrian airspace at high speed and low altitude where it could not be detected by radar. If contacts between the two countries’ militaries had not been cut six months ago, they could have resolved the incident without loss of the plane and crew, he said

He pledged to refrain from massing Syrian forces on the Turkish border and blamed tension between the two former allies on the Turkish government’s support of opposition and rebel forces. He said there would be a problem only “if Turkey’s people start becoming hostile”.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, argued that Russia and China had shifted position during the weekend summit in Geneva from support for Mr Assad to acceptance of “the principle of a policy change . . . agreement on a political transition”.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, however, accused some quarters of distorting the outcome of the Geneva meeting during which he insisted that Moscow would not back an external solution.

He announced that he will be meeting a Syrian opposition group – led by veteran dissident Michel Kilo – next week with the aim of trying to end violence and start dialogue between the government and all groups of the opposition.

At the Cairo conference convened to unify the Syrian opposition, the Syrian General Revolution Commission withdrew at the behest of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

The moderate Syria-based Building a Syrian State refused to attend, saying Syria’s fate should be decided in Syria.