Syria’s Assad, in rare TV interview, says his army is winning civil war

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 29, 2012 

— Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking publicly for the first time since a bomb in Damascus killed four of his top military advisers, said Wednesday that his forces are winning Syria’s civil war and that foreign governments are engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Syria.

The hour-long pre-recorded interview with Assad was aired on Dounia, a pro-government TV channel. In it, Assad was defiant and vowed to carry on the war until the rebels, who’ve been fighting in earnest for more than a year, are defeated.

“The situation is now better for our army but we need time to defeat them,” he said. “If we take into consideration the battles that our army is fighting, it is both strategically and politically speaking very, very complicated, but they are having a lot of success.”

The interview came as the number of refugees fleeing Syria has risen dramatically in recent days as the Syrian air force has taken on a significant role in the fighting. Despite the increase in violence, however, Assad denied his government had lost control of any part of the country.

“There is no place outside of our control. We can go where we like,” he said.

Assad blamed the violence specifically on Turkey, which has provided support for the Syrian rebels, and claimed that the Turkish people don’t support their government’s stance. He also struck at the idea of safe zones, which the Turkish government has called for creating inside Syria.

“If they want to have safe areas in Syria, that ought to be something agreed to by the two countries. As Syrians, we never support this,” he said.

Assad referred to government officials who had defected in recent months as “cowards,” and he said that despite rumors, his wife, Asma, remained inside Syria. “She is in the Republican Palace with me,” he said.

The Syrian government has undertaken a public relations offensive in recent weeks, embedding both foreign and Syrian journalists with government troops and broadcasting scenes of the carnage caused by the fighting, which it blames on “terrorists,” non-Syrian Muslims and “mercenaries.”

Rebels, meanwhile, have increased their firepower, capturing more arms from government stockpiles in recent months and using long-range weapons, such as mortars, with greater frequency. On Wednesday, rebel forces near the city of Taftanaz, in northern Syria, claimed to have struck successfully at a military airport in the area, destroying helicopters and other equipment. According to a Syrian activist who spoke with groups involved in the attack, it was carried out by Ahrar al Sham, a group with fighting units across northern and central Syria.

Syrian government helicopters were reported to be firing rockets at Taftanaz after the attack. Taftanaz was the site of a battle and subsequent army operation in April that left nearly 70 people dead over a period of three days.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Damascus, the Syrian capital, this week, and fighting continued there on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that that tracks casualties, reported that a bomb blast targeted the funeral of two government supporters in Damascus who themselves had been killed in a car bombing.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights has counted more than 21,000 civilian and rebel deaths as a direct result of violence since March 2011. The group recorded 107 rebel and civilian casualties across Syria on Wednesday.

Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: denders@mcclatchydc.com, twitter: @davidjenders

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