President Assad says he will not negotiate rebels unless they lay down their arms

Saturday 05 October 2013 21.01
Syrian President Assad said: "In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons"
Syrian President Assad said: "In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a German magazine that he would not negotiate with rebels until they laid down their arms.

He said that he was still considering whether to run for office again next year.

In an extensive interview with Der Spiegel, Mr Assad said he did not believe it was possible to solve the conflict in Syria through negotiations with the rebels.

His comments may dampen hopes among Western powers for a political solution.

Mr Assad said: "In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons."

He said: "If someone drops his weapons and wants to return to daily life,then we can discuss it." 

The Syria conflict started as a peaceful protest movement against four decades of the Assad family rule.

It has turned into a full-scale war after a government crackdown. More than 100,000 people have been killed.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution last week that demands the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons.

It endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria that was agreed upon at an international conference in Geneva last year.

Mr Assad said he was not worried about his own fate, which was why he and his family had stayed in Damascus through two and a half years of conflict.

He said he felt the Syrian people were rallying behind him as they saw the devastation wrought by the rebels.

Mr Assad said Syria would hold presidential elections two months before his current term ends next August and he could not yet say whether he would run.

"If I do not have the will of the people behind me anymore, I will not run," he added.

President Assad said his government may have made errors in the severity of its initial crackdown, but he still stood by its decision to "fight terrorism, to defend our country".

"Each of us makes personal errors. We all make errors.

A president, too, makes errors," he said. "But even if there were errors in the implementation, our fundamental decision was right."

Mr Assad said the Syrian crisis had been prompted by forces outside the country, in particular al-Qaeda fighters.

Financial aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as logistical aid from Turkey, was sustaining the conflict, he said.

"We have here al-Qaeda with fighters from 80 countries," he said. "There are tens of thousands of fighters that we are dealing with."

Last week, Al Qaeda-linked fighters fought rival Syrian rebels near the border with Turkey, underscoring divisions between the factions battling President Assad.

Those divisions have hurt their fight against Minister Assad's better equipped and organised forces and made Western powers more reluctant to intervene.