Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Rebel forces can't win, says Assad

Syria's President Bashar Assad says rebel forces will not bring down his regime

Syrian president Bashar Assad has insisted his regime will not fall and also lashed out at Gulf countries, which he accused of using their enormous oil wealth to try to drive him from power.

Mr Assad's comments came as an opposition group, the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, accused the regime of being behind the disappearance of two of its leaders.

Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir and Ayas Ayyash were expected to take part in a conference on Sunday in Damascus by some 20 Syrian groups that are calling for Mr Assad to step down. But they disappeared yesterday with a friend who had picked them up at Damascus International Airport, the group said.

In the interview with the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Mr Assad said the rebels "will not succeed" and that a foreign military intervention such as the one that helped topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will "not be repeated" in Syria.

He also launched one of his harshest attacks on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been among his strongest critics and backers of the opposition, saying they are trying to influence the region with their money. "They think their money can buy geography, history and a regional role," Mr Assad said.

"They are giving terrorists weapons and money with hope of repeating the Libyan model," Mr Assad added. "Instead of helping regional stability they are supplying armed elements with weapons and training in order to weaken the Syrian state."

The upheaval in Syria presents an opportunity for the Gulf's Sunni rulers to bolster their influence and possibly leave Shiite powerhouse Iran without its critical alliances that flow through Damascus. Mr Assad's regime, which is allied strongly with Iran, is led by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Syria's ties with the Gulf nations have been strained in the past - Mr Assad once called Saudi King Abdullah and other Arab leaders "half men" for being critical of Hezbollah over the 34-day war between the Lebanese Shiite militant group and Israel in 2006.

In the interview, Mr Assad added that the only way to solve the Syrian crisis is through "dialogue with the opposition" and that the "door for dialogue is open".

Most Syrian opposition groups reject any talks with the regime, saying they will not accept anything less than Mr Assad's departure from power and the dissolving of his regime's security agencies. Hassan Abdul-Azim, the opposition group leader, repeated that stance and said the opposition wants a "new regime that represents the will of the people."

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