Assad vows retaliation to any Israeli attack

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad says that he will respond to any Israeli aggression next time.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has threatened Israel with retaliation to any future military aggression and 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 Hezbollah-owned Al Manar TV on Thursday.

“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan,” Assad said.

“There are several factors, including repeated Israeli aggression,” he said, referring to reported Israeli air strikes on Syria.

There was no immediate comment on Assad’s remarks from Israel, which seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Assad, whose forces are battling alongside fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, to recapture the key town of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, said he was “very 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.

Assad also said Syria would be willing to attend peace talks with the opposition in principle, but any subsequent deal would have to be approved by a referendum.

Assad was referring to talks, backed by Russia and the US, planned next month in Geneva aimed at finding a political solution to the country’s civil war.

He also said weapons contracts with Russia are 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 interview, pre-recorded and released on Thursday, was welcomed by some in Damascus with celebratory gunfire.

“The only condition [to attend peace talks] is that anything to be implemented will be submitted to Syrian public opinion and a Syrian referendum,” Assad said.

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

Speaking to Al Jazeera, she said: “This is not good ahead of peace talks in Geneva.”

Coalition talks ending

Assad’s interview was broadcast as the main opposition coalition wrapped up several days of talks in Istanbul.

Syria’s divided opposition group officially expanded early Friday to include 43 new members, after eight days of meetings marred by internal bickering and international pressure.

The total number of National Coalition members is now 114, acting chief George Sabra told reporters, adding that the general assembly was now finished.

Among the new Coalition seats are “15 from the (rebel Free Syrian Army’s) Chief of Staff, 14 members of the revolutionary movements inside Syria and 14 others”, said Sabra.

Earlier on Thursday, Sabra said the opposition would not participate in the Geneva talks until the international community intervened to end a siege in Qusayr, a town in Homs province near the Lebanese border.

“The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria,” Sabra told reporters in Istanbul.

Khaled Saleh, the SNC spokesperson, who addressed the news conference after Sabra, said civilians in the town had been “severely wounded” and Qusayr had been completely cut off by forces loyal to Assad.

“Civilians have no access to water, electricity and the massacre continues minute by minute while the Assad regime continues to use weapons” it receives from allies, he said.

Saleh said the UN and Arab League should intervene to stop the killings that the Lebanese group “Hezbollah is responsible for”.

Meanwhile, fighting in Qusayr continued as activists claimed medical staff were running out of supplies to treat the wounded.

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

Reports have said up to 4,000 Hezbollah fighters have joined forces with the Syrian military, which has claimed to be winning the battle.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies