A defiant President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday rejected calls that he seek a safe exit, vowing he will “live in Syria and die in Syria,” in what appeared to be a response to comments from British Prime Minister David Cameron made to Al Arabiya earlier in the week.
On Tuesday, Cameron floated the idea of granting Assad safe passage from the country, saying it “could be arranged,” although he wanted him to face international justice.
“Done. Anything, anything, to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria,” Cameron told Al Arabiya’s Rima Maktabi in Abu Dhabi when asked about offering Assad safe passage.
“Of course I would favor him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done. I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if he wants to leave he could leave, that could be arranged,” he said.
But Assad on Thursday warned that the world cannot afford the cost of a foreign intervention.
“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” Assad said in English in an interview with Russian state-backed Russia Today (RT) television.
“I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria,” he said, according to transcripts posted on RT’s website.
Assad, who has made only rare public statements in recent months, also warned against a foreign intervention in Syria’s escalating conflict, saying such a move would have global consequences and shake regional stability.
“We are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region... it will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” the transcript said.
In a separate video extract of the interview, Assad added: “The price of this invasion, if it happens, is going to be big, more than the whole world can afford.”
Many in Syria’s opposition, including rebels battling pro-regime forces, have urged world powers to intervene to stop the escalating bloodshed.
Assad denied Syria was in a state of civil war as the opposition met Friday for crucial unity talks and the main armed rebel group said it was undergoing a drastic reorganization.
Underlining the mounting humanitarian crisis, Ankara said some 8,000 Syrians had fled to Turkey overnight after heavy clashes near the border, bringing to more than 120,000 the number of Syrian refugees in the country.
In the interview with Russian television, Assad warned that Syria was facing a protracted conflict because foreign powers were backing the rebels, but insisted there was no civil war.
If support for rebels from abroad stopped, Assad told RT, “I can tell that in weeks we can finish everything.
“But as long as you have a continuous supply in terrorists, armaments, logistics and everything else, it is going to be a long-term war.”
Assad admitted divisions existed in the country, but said “division does not mean civil war”, said his future could be decided only through the ballot box and denied his forces had committed war crimes.
About 11,000 Syrian refugees have fled to three neighboring countries in the past 24 hours, the largest exodus in “quite some time”, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
The latest exodus into Turkey (9,000), Lebanon (1,000) and Jordan (1,000) brings to 408,000 the total number of Syrian refugees registered or being assisted in the region, Panos Moumtzis of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
Around 9,000 Syrian refugees fled into Turkey in the past 24 hours, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday, and Turkish state media said 26 defecting Syrian army officers had also arrived.
More than 120,000 registered Syrian refugees are now sheltering in Turkish camps. Tens of thousands of unregistered Syrians are also living in Turkish border towns and villages.
“It just indicates a significant crisis, the continuation of the conflict,” Moumtzis told a news briefing in Geneva after aid agencies held a Syria Humanitarian Forum. “In Turkey, we know from most refugees that they come from Aleppo or Idlib or northern areas. That has been the trend so far.”
Some 32,000 people have been killed in Syria during a revolt against Assad that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 but became an armed rebellion after a deadly military crackdown.