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Assad Says Rebel Victory Would Destabilize Middle East

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Damascus – President Bashar al-Assad has warned that if rebel forces battling to overthrow him take power in Syria they could destabilize the Middle East for decades. The Syrian leader locked in a two-year conflict which he says has been fuelled by his regional foes, also criticized Turkey’s “foolish and immature” leaders and Arab neighbors he said were arming and sheltering rebel fighters.

“If the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country, or if the terrorist forces take control … the situation will inevitably spill over into neighboring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he said in an interview with Turkish television. Turmoil would spread “east, west, north and south. This will lead to a state of instability for years and maybe decades to come,” Assad said in the interview, posted by the Syrian presidency on the Internet.

His remarks were an acid reiteration of his long-standing argument that Syria and the region will face a bleak future if he falls. His foes argue that his determination to keep power at all costs has already plunged his country into disaster. The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syrian’s conflict. Daily death tolls of around 200 are not uncommon, monitoring groups say. More than a million refugees have fled the country and the Syrian Red Crescent says nearly four million have been internally displaced.

Neighboring Lebanon and Jordan are both struggling to cope with the flood of refugees, while the sectarian element of the conflict – with mainly Sunni Muslim and Islamist fighters battling a president from Syria’s Alawite minority – has also raised tensions in neighbors such as Lebanon and Iraq.

While accusing opponents of using “sectarian slogans”, Assad said the essence of the battle was between “forces and states seeking to take their people back into historic times, and states wanting to take their peoples into a prosperous future”. He appeared to be referring to Sunni Muslim Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, absolute monarchies which have supported efforts to arm insurgents in an uprising which began with peaceful protests for reform and spiraled into civil war.

Assad said Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was recruiting fighters with Qatari money to wage war in Syria, but warned his former friend that the bloodshed could not easily be contained. “The fire in Syria will burn Turkey. Unfortunately he does not see this reality,” Assad said. Erdogan, he said, “has not uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began”. (Reuters)

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