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Assad vows response to Israeli attack

Syria's president tells Lebanese TV station he has received shipment of arms from Russia and will defend his country.

Last Modified: 30 May 2013 12:35
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Assad told al-Akhbar that Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets [AP]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his country will respond to any Israeli attack on its soil.

In an interview to be aired on Thursday by Al-Manar TV station, owned by the Shia Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon, Assad also said he had already received the first shipment of an advanced Russian air defence system and would soon get the rest of the S-300 missile system.

The comments were first published on Thursday by the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar  which got excerpts of the interview. 

"Syria has received the first shipment of Russian anti-aircraft S-300 rockets," al-Akhbar  quoted Assad as saying. "The rest of the shipment will arrive soon."

Israel has suggested its military might strike the Russian S-300 missiles.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition members meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul have set preconditions on entering international peace talks scheduled for next month in Geneva.

George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said it would not take part in talks while key allies of Assad's regime were waging war alongside government forces.

Political solution

The SNC had earlier said a political process that would end the rule of Assad was a requirement for it to take part in the planned conference, which hopes to bring the Syrian government and opposition together for the first time.

Regime forces said they recaptured an airfield near the strategic town of Qusayr on Wednesday

"The participation of the Syrians in any conference is tied to the presentation of a deadline for a solution and giving the necessary binding international guarantees," said a statement released by the coalition.

"The Syrian Coalition welcomes the international efforts to find a political solution to what Syria has been suffering for two years while being committed to the principles of the revolution."

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Istanbul, said: "The opposition wants to see guarantees by the international community - binding measures as they say in their own words - that Assad will not be part of any settlement agreement."

Major powers also remain divided on who will take part in the talks or when they will be held, Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, said on Wednesday.

Ban told reporters "active consultations" were still being held, while Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the US government's "entire foreign policy apparatus" was working to hold the meeting. 

The US has also called on Lebanon's Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately.

France says about 3,000 to 4,000 Hezbollah fighters are currently battling alongside regime troops in Syria.

Meanwhile, Syria's foreign minister Walid al-Muallem told the Beirut-based news channel Mayadeen that the Syrian government would allow its people to vote on agreements made at the so-called Geneva 2 meeting.

"If we reach an agreement in Geneva, and I hope we will, it will be put to a referendum and if the people approve what we agreed upon, I can assure you it will be fully respected," Muallem said.

Muallem has already said earlier this month that the Syrian government will, in principle, send delegates to the Geneva 2 conference.

Also on Wednesday, the US, Turkey and Qatar pushed through a UN resolution demanding a probe into the fighting around the Syrian town of Qusayr, near Lebanon.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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