DAMASCUS: President Bashar Al Assad scotched any suggestion he might flee Syria and warned that any Western military intervention to topple him would have catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and beyond.
Speaking in an interview with Russia Today (RT) television to be broadcast on Friday, Assad said he did not see the West embarking on a military intervention in Syria and said the cost of such action would be unbearable.
“I think that the cost of a foreign invasion of Syria — if it happens — would be bigger than the entire world can bear ...This will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” he said.
“I do not believe the West is heading in this direction, but if they do, nobody can tell what will happen afterwards,” he added.
It was not clear when Assad gave the interview.
The broadcast comes two days after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of the country if that would guarantee an end to the civil war, which activists estimate has killed estimated 38,000 people.
“I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country,” Assad, 47, said.
He spoke in English and excerpts of the interview were posted on the station’s website on Thursday with an Arabic voiceover.
“I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria,” he said.
The full interview will be broadcast on Friday, the station said.
The excerpts show Assad casually talking and later walking with RT’s reporter outside a house, wearing a gray suit and tie. It was not clear where the interview took place.
Assad’s defiant remarks coincided with a landmark meeting in Qatar on Thursday of Syria’s fractious opposition to hammer out an agreement on a new umbrella body uniting rebel groups inside and outside Syria amid growing international pressure to put their house in order and prepare for a post-Assad transition.
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.
Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy head of the Arab League which with Qatar was brokering the meeting, told reporters that delegates had been urged to overcome the sharp divides that have dogged their efforts to unseat Assad.
“The opposition is urged to agree on a leading body which would have credibility among the Syrian people and the international community,” Ben Helli said.
His comments were echoed by Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Al-Thani who, on opening the meeting, called on Assad’s opponents to “unify their ranks and positions and to prioritise the interests of their nation and people over their own personal interests.”
Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the main exiled opposition group, told reporters the meeting could last two or three days.
Representatives from a number of countries are attending the meeting alongside Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi and Gulf Co-operation Council secretary general Abdullatif Al Zayani.
In the battleground, at least 16 Syrian soldiers and 10 rebels were killed on Thursday in heavy clashes in the northeastern town of Ras Al Ain near the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Turkey’s chief-of-staff has said his troops will respond “with greater force” if shells continue to land on Turkish soil, and parliament has authorised the deployment of troops beyond Turkey, heightening fears that Syria’s civil war could drag in regional powers.
Turkey on Thursday also forced an Armenian plane carrying humanitarian aid for Syria to land for an inspection of its cargo, the Anatolia news agency reported.
It was the second time in a month that the Turkish authorities have ordered an Armenian plane heading for Syria to land for security checks.