Syrian president warns West against military intervention

 

DOHA, Qatar

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a stark warning Thursday to Western nations that may be thinking of intervening militarily in the bloody conflict that has devastated the country.

"I think the price of this invasion, if it happened, is going too big, more than the whole world can afford," Assad said in an interview with the Russia Today news channel. "We are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region and coexistence. . . . It will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and you know the implication on the rest of the world."

He added, "I don't think the West is going in that regard, but if they do so, nobody can tell what's next."

A brief video clip and transcript of the interview were posted on the Russia Today Web site Thursday, and the channel will air the full interview Friday.

The Russian government has strongly supported Assad despite widespread international criticism of his regime, and that may have played a role in the news channel getting the interview. It was not clear where it took place.

In the video, Assad, wearing a gray suit and blue shirt, appeared calm and spoke in English. It was the first time that images of the beleaguered Syrian president have been broadcast since he attended a Friday prayer session for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday on Oct. 26.

In the interview, Assad said he had no plans to leave Syria. His comments appeared to address a statement by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said in an interview Tuesday that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of the country in return for ending the conflict so that a safe transition of power could get under way.

"I am not a puppet," Assad said. "I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country. I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."

The president's refusal to leave the country is certain to prolong the nearly 20-month-old conflict, which opposition activists say has left at least 35,000 dead.

Fighting raged in at least half a dozen cities across the country Thursday, leaving 90 dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebel Free Syrian Army also posted a statement online asserting that one of its units in Damascus, the capital, kidnapped the son of Rustam Ghazali, the head of military intelligence.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition members met in Doha on Thursday to discuss an initiative aimed at forming a broader and more inclusive opposition group that could form a transitional government.

Qatar's prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, attended the meeting, as did Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby and diplomatic representatives from a number of countries, including the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We would like to see what the Syrian people would like to see and what they've been calling for, which is a political structure that's broadly representative of all of the groups and the regions of Syria, that is better connected to the situation on the ground."

Some observers see an urgent need for the Syrian opposition, as well as its international supporters, to act now.

"Three or four months from now, the situation is going to be more complex," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. "I really am quite worried that we will lose Syria for a generation."

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