DAMASCUS – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned of an “earthquake” if the West intervenes in his country, according to the BBC. In a rare interview with the UK’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Assad said involvement risked transforming Syria into “another Afghanistan”.
His comments came after the UN secretary-general made a new call for the repression to end. At least 50 civilians and members of the security forces were killed on Saturday, according to the two sides. Activists said 21 civilians were killed and that army tanks had shelled a historic district in the city of Homs. The government said 20 soldiers had been killed in Homs, and 10 members of the security forces killed during an ambush of their bus in Idlib province. More than 3,000 people have died in the unrest since protests calling for the government of Assad to step down broke out in March.
In the Sunday Telegraph interview, Assad said Western countries “are going to ratchet up the pressure, definitely”. “Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake,” he said. “Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region. Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?”
President Assad admitted that “many mistakes” had been made by his security forces in the early part of the uprising, but the paper said he insisted that “only terrorists” were now being targeted.
He said he had responded differently to the Arab Spring than other, deposed Arab leaders. “We didn’t go down the road of stubborn government,” he said. “Six days after (the protests began), I commenced reform.
Assad described the uprising as a “struggle between Islamism and pan-Arabism. “We’ve been fighting the Muslim brotherhood since the 1950s and we are still fighting with them,” he said.
The latest statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Assad must respond to demands for change with serious reform, “not repression and violence”, and called for an immediate halt to military operations. His calls echo those of members of the Arab League who on Friday sent an “urgent message” to the Syrian government, denouncing “the continued killings of civilians” taking part in protests. The League’s ministerial committee on the Syrian crisis also urged Damascus to “take the necessary measures” to protect civilians.
Meanwhile, Syrians aiming to write a new constitution for the strife-torn country will meet for the first time on Monday, the state news agency reported, quoted by the CNN.
Assad earlier this month announced the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution within four months, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported at the time. The October 15 announcement was one of several moves the government has made to defuse protests, but they have not calmed the situation in the country.