(AP) – President Bashar Assad has rarely deviated from his statements on the crisis in Syria since it began nearly 20 months ago. Here is a look at his latest remarks, in an interview shown Friday by broadcaster Russia Today:
_ “We do not have a civil war.”
Assad has insisted the revolt against his rule is the work of what he calls foreign terrorists _ hostile countries and extremists who want to destroy Syria.
The uprising began with months of protests by ordinary citizens that turned violent after repeated attacks by security forces. On July 15, the International committee of the Red Cross said it considers the conflict to be a full-blown civil war. That term allows parties involved to use appropriate force to achieve their aims under international humanitarian law.
_ “I can tell (you) that in weeks we can finish everything.”
Assad has said his military would be able to restore calm quickly _ but only if foreign countries immediately stop sending weapons and aid to the rebels.
Foreign countries, including nations in the West, Europe and the Gulf, do support the opposition, although most have said they won’t arm the rebels out of fear the weapons could fall into the wrong hands. Weapons are being smuggled in, however, although the rebels say they are only getting light arms that cannot turn the tide against the regime’s far superior firepower.
_ “I think that the cost of foreign invasion of Syria, if it happened, would be greater than the whole world can afford.”
Assad has warned against foreign military intervention before, saying any attempt to meddle in the crisis would cause the entire region to burn.
The conflict does have the potential to suck in neighboring countries because Syria has a web of allegiances to powerful forces, including Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. But world powers have shown no appetite for military intervention, and even Assad acknowledges it’s an unlikely scenario.
_ “We are the last bastion of secularism, stability and coexistence in the region.”
Syria is too wracked by conflict to be seen as a bastion of stability and coexistence, but it’s true that the country has pushed a secular identity in the past. In many ways, it was a strategy to hold together the country’s fragile jigsaw puzzle of Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druse, Circassians, Armenians and others.
Sectarian violence is widely feared, and in a worst-case scenario, the country could descend into warfare among religious sects. The Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. The uprising already has brought sectarian tensions to the surface.
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