BEIRUT – Syrias President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday predicted victory for his military in the bloody civil war and made it clear he wouldnt be stepping down, snubbing members of the international community who have called for his ouster and signaling a protracted battle for control of the country.
In an hour-long interview that aired on the pro-regime Dunya TV, Assad also hinted that the military, which opposition groups say has killed more than 20,000 people, could use more force.
When the armed forces want to use all of their power, they can destroy areas entirely, he said. But they care about two things: the lives of civilians and private property.
Assad appeared defiant, even cocky, in the interview, the first since four government officials were killed in a bomb attack in mid-July, and he repeatedly played down the crisis in the country. In one portion of the interview, Assad called the numerous defections that have hit both his government and the military a self-cleaning process of the state and the nation.
His comments came after ramped-up attacks in and around Damascus over the past week that have killed hundreds of people – including at least 320 in a single suburb Saturday, according to opposition groups – and that seem to have shifted the momentum toward government forces. The fighting in Aleppo, Syrias biggest city and commercial hub, meanwhile, appears to have bogged down.
On Tuesday, the Syrian military scattered fliers across Damascus from helicopters, warning rebel forces to either surrender or die, in a possible sign of an even more serious escalation in the violence in the capital.
Meanwhile the international community is struggling to deal with a growing refugees crisis as more than 200,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, the majority of them to Turkey, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the United Nations to create a safe zone for refugees inside Syria.
In a lighter moment during Wednesdays interview, the questioner noted that there are rumors that Assad has fled to Tehran, Moscow or Latakia, the traditional homeland of the presidents Alawite sect, and asked, Where are you right now, Mr. President?
Assad laughed and replied, Im here with you in Damascus, on the ground, in the presidential palace.