In lengthy interview, Syrian president says rebel victory would destabilize the Middle East, slams Arab League.
The Syrian president postulated that the apology “shows that [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has entered into a pact with Israel in order to damage the situation in Syria.”
“The question is why didn’t [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] apologize in years passed. What has changed? It’s the same Erdogan, it’s the same Netanyahu. What has changed is the situation in Syria,” Assad said.
The Syrian leader, locked in a two-year conflict which he says has been fueled by his regional foes, also criticized Turkey’s “foolish and immature” leaders and Arab neighbors he said were arming and sheltering rebel fighters.
“If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control … the situation will inevitably spill over into neighboring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he said in an interview with Turkish television.
Turmoil would spread “east, west, north and south. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come,” Assad said in the interview, posted by the Syrian presidency on the Internet.
His remarks were an acid reiteration of his long-standing argument that Syria and the region will face a bleak future if he falls. His foes argue that his determination to keep power at all costs has already plunged his country into disaster.
The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict. Daily death tolls of around 200 are not uncommon, monitoring groups say. More than a million refugees have fled the country and the Syrian Red Crescent says nearly four million have been internally displaced.
Neighboring Lebanon and Jordan are both struggling to cope with the flood of refugees, while the sectarian element of the conflict – with mainly Sunni Muslim and Islamist fighters battling a president from Syria’s Alawite minority – has also raised tensions in neighbors such as Lebanon and Iraq.
While accusing opponents of using “sectarian slogans,” Assad said the essence of the battle was between “forces and states seeking to take their people back into historic times, and states wanting to take their peoples into a prosperous future.”
He appeared to be referring to Sunni Muslim Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, absolute monarchies which have supported efforts to arm insurgents in an uprising which began with peaceful protests for reform and spiraled into civil war.
Assad said Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was recruiting fighters with Qatari money to wage war in Syria, but warned his former friend that the bloodshed could not easily be contained. “The fire in Syria will burn Turkey. Unfortunately he does not see this reality,” Assad said.
Erdogan, he said, “has not uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began.”
Assad says he’s “not hiding in a bunker”
Assad also condemned the Arab League, which has suspended Syria’s membership and last month invited opposition leaders Moaz Alkhatib and Ghassan Hitto to attend a summit meeting in his place.
“The Arab League itself lacks legitimacy,” he said. “It is an organization which represents Arab states and not Arab people. It has lacked legitimacy for a long time because these Arab states themselves …. do not reflect the will of the Arab people.”
Assad also dismissed Western countries which condemned his crackdown on the protest as hypocrites. “France and Britain committed massacres in Libya with the support and cover of the United States. The Turkish government is knee-deep in Syrian blood. Are these states really concerned about Syrian blood?”
Responding to rumors of his assassination spread by activists and fighters over the last two weeks, Assad said he was living as ever in Damascus, despite rebel advances in the outskirts of the city and regular mortar attacks on its center.
“I am not hiding in a bunker. These rumors (aim) to undermine the morale of the Syrian people. I neither live on a Russian warship nor in Iran. I live in Syria, in the same place I always did.”
Assad, who has lost swathes of territory in the north and east of his country, is also battling to keep back rebel militias on the eastern and southern edges of Damascus.
In recent weeks rebels have gained ground in the southern province of Deraa, cradle of the two-year-old uprising, which could give them a platform for a fiercer assault on the capital.
The fighting in Deraa has alarmed Israel, which fears that four decades of relative calm on the front between the Syrian military and its own troops on the Israeli Golan Heights could be threatened as Islamist rebel brigades take control of the Syrian side of the line.