With resistance to his regime mounting and more blood spilling onto the streets of Syria, President Bashar Al Assad seems to be getting increasingly resilient, or at least that is what he shows. Sounding defiant as ever, this week Assad told a Turkish TV channel that his overthrow from power could destabilise the Middle East for decades.
"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 neighbouring countries and create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond," he said in an interview to Ulusal TV.
Assad's regime is caught in a cycle of violence fuelled by a bloody rebellion against his decades-old rule. The revolt, which started two years ago in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, has taken a sectarian twist with Assad's Alawite sect largely standing behind him as mostly Sunni militants battle for his overthrow. The Alawites are an offshoot of Shia Islam. Assad has Shia Iran by his side, besides the support of Russia and China. Reports say that Hezbollah, a Shia militant group propped by Iran, is also helping the regime battle the rebels.
The footage, posted by the government, shows Assad shaking hands before the interview with three men and one woman, all dressed in business suits. However, only two of the men are shown to interview him.
"I am very much alive and in front of you," an unfazed Assad told his interviewers when told about rumours that he was killed or in hiding. "I have not taken refuge in Iran or am not in hiding," he added.
Railing against Turkey, a former ally, Assad said that its rulers were "foolish and immature."
Referring to Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Assad said: "He has not uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began." The Syrian leader accused Erdogan of recruiting fighters with money from some Gulf states to battle the government. "The fire in Syria will burn Turkey. Unfortunately, he does not see this reality."
Responding to the Arab League giving Syria's seat to the opposition led by Moaz Al Khatib, Assad said that the pan-Arab body itself lacked legitimacy. "It is an organisation that represents Arab states and not Arab people. It has lacked legitimacy for a long time because these Arab states do not reflect the will of the Arab people.
Turkey-- friend turned foe
In a diatribe against the Turkish prime minister, Assad said of Erdogan "maybe he saw in the events taking place in the Arab world, an opportunity to prolong his political life," which made him turn against Syria, which was a close ally before the revolt against Assad.
"This man's mind is that of the Muslim Brotherhood. We know the Brotherhood has been there in Syria for the last 30 years. They are a group of opportunists who use religion to their personal advantage," Assad said of the conservative Sunni Muslim religious group that was banned in Egypt before Hosni Mubarak's overthrow brought the Brotherhood's government to power there.
"With revolutions and foreign interventions taking place in so many countries, he saw groups belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. He saw in it an opportunity to stay in power in Turkey for many years to come. He turned against Syria as in it he saw an opportunity to remain in power," Assad added.
The Syrian leader blamed the Turkish government of harbouring terrorists and training them with money supplied by other countries before sending them inside Syria.
"Erdogan," Assad said, "even before the crisis always had the interests of Muslim Brotherhood in mind more than Turkish-Syrian relations."
Al Qaeda offers hand--Islamic State
Amid talk of Al Qaeda rebels present in the ranks of the rebels, the chief of the terror group asked the fighters to aim at establishing an Islamic state in the country.
In a message posted on the Internet, Ayman Al Zawahiri, former second-in-command to Osama bin Laden, said "Let your fight be in the name of Allah and with the aim of establishing Allah's Shariah (Islamic law) as the ruling system. Do all that you can so that your holy war yields a jihadist Islamic state."
On Wednesday, the Al-Nusra Front, fighting alongside other rebel groups in Syria, pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. This is likely to deepen concerns among Western powers that are loath to intervene in the conflict. In an online audio recording, Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed Al-Jawani said: "The sons of Al-Nusra Front renew their pledge to the Sheikh of Jihad Ayman Al-Zawahiri and declare obedience."
This move is likely to further complicate the rebellion against Assad, vindicating his stand that the rebels are "terrorists".