Assad vows to ‘live and die’ in Syria

Syrian president rejects calls for him to seek exile, warning that foreign intervention will have global consequences.

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad has rejected calls he seek a safe exit from the country, vowing he would “live in Syria and die in Syria,” as fighting raged in Damascus.

“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” Assad said in English in an interview with Russia’s RT television.

“I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria,” he said, according to transcripts posted on RT’s website.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron floated the idea of granting Assad safe passage from the country, saying it “could be arranged,” although he wanted the Syrian leader to face international justice.

Assad also warned against foreign intervention in the country’s escalating conflict, saying such a move would have global consequences and shake regional stability.

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“We are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region … it will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” the transcript said.

In a separate video extract of the interview, Assad added: “The price of this invasion, if it happens, is going to be big, more than the whole world can afford.”

Many in Syria’s opposition, including rebels waging fierce battles with pro-regime forces, have urged world powers to intervene to stop the escalating bloodshed.

‘Can’t cope’

Fighting continued on Thursday, with mounting violence in Damascus seeing rebels again clashing with troops, and as the Red Cross said it was struggling to cope with the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Fresh fighting broke out overnight in the southern neighbourhood of Qadam and in Mazzeh in the west, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground.

It said that in and around Damascus alone, 59 civilians, rebels and soldiers were killed on Wednesday and that a total of 133 died across the country.

In recent days, rebels have stepped up their attacks on Assad’s power base in the capital.

On Wednesday, they shelled Mazzeh 86, a district mainly populated by members of Assad’s Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Sectarian divides are a key factor in Syria’s armed rebellion, with many in the Sunni Muslim majority frustrated at more than 40 years of Alawite-dominated rule.

The observatory says more than 37,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement, and then an armed rebellion after the regime cracked down on demonstrations.

In Geneva, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said the aid group was finding it difficult to manage a crisis that has also forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

“The humanitarian situation is getting worse despite the scope of the operation increasing,” he told reporters. “We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation.”

Opposition talks

Meanwhile, in Qatar, the umbrella opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) elected a new 40-member all-male general secretariat with Islamists, including at least five Muslim Brotherhood members, accounting for about a third.

Despite calls from Washington for the SNC to be more representative, the approximately 400 members did not elect a single woman or any Alawite to the leadership.

SNC officials said four members representing women and minorities, including a Christian and an Alawite, would now be added to secretariat, which will elect on Friday 11 members to appoint a successor to outgoing president Abdel Basset Sayda.

Al Jazeera’s Omar al Saleh, reporting from Doha, said nothing tangible had come out of Thursday’s meetings.

“That perhaps is an indication of the huge differences between the members of the Syrian national council and other opposition figures outside the council,” our correspondent said.

“The international community and the core group of the “Friends of Syria” that includes the US, France, Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey, are pushing for a new initiative to be adopted by the delegates.

“That initiative calls for a coherent representative structure that would also represent those fighting inside Syria. Western diplomats are telling Al Jazeera that this is not going to happen any time soon.”

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With the violence in Syria often spilling over the country’s borders, neighbouring Turkey confirmed it was in talks with NATO about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles on its soil, while insisting it would be purely for defence.

“It is only natural for us to take any measure for defence reasons,” President Abdullah Gul told reporters on Thursday, adding that it was “out of the question for Turkey to start a war with Syria”.

Media reports have suggested the missiles could be deployed on the border to create a partial no-fly zone and allow for the establishment of safe havens inside Syria.

Two Turks were wounded by bullets from Syria on Thursday, Turkish media reported, amid clashes between rebels and troops near the town of Ras al-Ain.

An Armenian plane carrying humanitarian aid for Syria was also made to land in Turkey for what officials said was a “routine” search of its cargo.

It was the second time in a month Turkish authorities have ordered an Armenian plane heading for Syria to land.

Three mortar shells fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, causing no damage or injuries, the Israeli army said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies