Assad warns Israel as 'rebels flood Qusayr'

Syria's President vows to respond to Israeli attack as more than 1000 rebels bolster fighters in key city near Lebanon.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has threatened Israel with retaliation over future military aggression, as more than 1000 rebels rushed to the besieged city of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.

    George Sabra, the interim president of the Syrian National Coalition said on Friday that opposition fighters were flooding into Qusayr, which had been under rebel control for months until government troops moved to retake the town in Homs province two weeks ago.

    "More than 1000 fighters from the Free Syrian Army from all over Syria are now joining the resistance inside Qusayr to defend against the foreign terrorist invaders, who are infiltrating our country from Lebanon and other places," Sabra said.

    Assad, whose forces were battling alongside fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, to recapture Qusayr, said earlier in an interview with Hezbollah's Al Manar television that he was confident of victory.

    "There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of (anti-Israeli) resistance... (but) we are very confident of victory," he said.

    He said that his troops would retaliate to any future military aggression by Israel with renewed fighting in the Golan Heights.

    "We have informed all the parties who have contacted us that we will respond to any Israeli aggression next time," Assad told Al Manar TV on Thursday.

    "There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan."

    Russian agreements 'honoured'

    There was no immediate comment on Assad's remarks from Israel, which seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 six-day war.

    Assad also said Syria, in principle, would be willing to attend peace talks, backed by Russia and the US, with the opposition next month in Geneva, but any subsequent deal would have to be approved by a referendum.

    He also said weapons contracts with Russia were not linked to the crisis, and that he would contest presidential elections next year if the Syrian people want him to.

    "All the agreements with Russia will be honoured and some already have been recently," he said.

    "The only condition [to attend peace talks] is that anything to be implemented will be submitted to Syrian public opinion and a Syrian referendum."

    Agreeing in principle to talks showed a lack of relevance to the diplomatic process, said Geneive Abdo, a fellow in the Middle East programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington.

    "This is not good ahead of peace talks in Geneva," she told Al Jazeera.

    Lebanon 'divided'

    Lebanese Prime Minister Tamman Salam said his country should stay out of the Syrian conflict, in an interview published in Friday's edition of the French daily newspaper Le Figaro.

    "We must at all price preserve national unity," he said.

    "And obviously, Hezbollah's military involvement is not helpling matters."

    The battle of the town, which is close to the border with Lebanon, is considered strategic, and foreign fighters are reportedly supporting both sides.

    Kamel Wazne, founder of the Centre of American Strategic Studies in Beirut, told Al Jazeera that almost everyone in Lebanon had a stake in the outcome of the battle in Syria, whether it was Hezbollah, the March 14 Alliance or an Islamist movement, helping the opposition from the Libyan capital of Tripoli. 

    He said the battle for Qusayr was the battle of the century between the two conflicting parties, and both sides would fight to the end.

    "Lebanon is divided along sectarian lines in that battle that is taking place in Syria," Wazne said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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