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SYRIA

More time needed in battle against rebels, Assad says

Text by: NEWS WIRES
5 min

Syria will need more time to win its battle against anti-regime rebels, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview televised on Wednesday, while rejecting Turkish suggestions of a buffer zone to aid refugees as "not on the table".

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AFP - President Bashar al-Assad rejected the idea of buffer zones for refugees ahead of Thursday's UN Security Council meeting tackling deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria.

The Security Council meeting called by France is aimed at "appealing to world conscience and for mobilisation" in the face of the Syrian humanitarian drama, a diplomat said in New York.

Turkey has floated the idea of creating buffer zones within Syria to receive those displaced by the conflict so they do not flood across the borders into neighbouring countries.

"Talk of buffer zones firstly is not on the table and secondly it is an unrealistic idea by hostile countries and the enemies of Syria," said Assad, speaking Wednesday in interview with pro-regime Addounia TV channel.

He also said his forces need more time to win the battle in Syria, amid fresh fighting, after a car bomb rocked a funeral in a Damascus suburb on Tuesday, killing 27 people.

"I can summarise in one phrase: we are progressing, the situation on the ground is better but we have not yet won -- this will take more time," he said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who will preside the UN meeting as France heads the Council in August, said Wednesday the issue of buffer zones would be brought up, even if "it is very complicated."

Syria's neighbours Lordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq were all to send ministers to the meeting.

French President Francois Hollande has said France was working with its partners on the possible establishment of such buffer zones.

But Fabius admitted implementing these would be "very complicated" and require the imposition of partial no-fly zones.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Turkey is in talks with the United Nations on ways to shelter thousands of refugees on Syrian soil.

"We expect the United Nations to step in for the protection of refugees inside Syria and if possible housing them in camps there," Davutoglu was quoted as saying by Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

He was speaking before leaving for New York to attend the Security Council meeting.

Human Rights Watch urged Syria's neighbours to keep their borders open to refugees, but Jordan said it would send home Syrians who attacked and injured more than 20 police in clashes at the Zaatari refugee camp near the border on Tuesday.

Assad on Wednesday also mocked regime defectors, saying their departure amounted to a "self-cleansing of the government firstly and the country generally."

Syria's government has been rattled by several high-profile defections as the conflict has escalated, including former premier Riad Hijab and prominent General Manaf Tlass, a childhood friend of Assad.

"Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond" between the regime and the Syrian people, Assad insisted, boasting the support of the majority of the population.

"What is happening is neither a revolution nor a Spring, it is about terrorist acts in every sense of the term," he said.

Battle for Taftanaz airport

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, said they destroyed five helicopters in a raid on a military airport between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib on Wednesday, while state television said the attack was repelled.

Abu Mossab, a rebel who said he took part in the attack, told AFP via Skype that rebels shelled Taftanaz military airport with two tanks captured from the army and destroyed five helicopters.

"We destroyed five helicopters as well as buildings in the airport," Abu Mossab said, although it remained in army hands after the raid in which the rebels lost two men before withdrawing.

State television said the military repelled the attack with the airport suffering "no material damage."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported fierce fighting near the airport and helicopter raids on the nearby town of Taftanaz.

In Damascus, activists reported a third straight day of army attacks on rebel strongholds in the eastern outer belt of the city, collectively referred to as East Ghuta.

State media said "terrorist mercenaries" had killed four civilians in Zamalka, using its term for rebels fighting government forces since the anti-regime uprising broke out in March 2011.

State-run newspaper Tishrin said Tuesday's car bombing of a funeral in Damascus was an indication that the "terrorist" groups have reached "a very advanced stage of despair and bankruptcy."

The bombing hit Jaramana, a mainly Druze and Christian town on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus that the Observatory described as generally supportive of Assad's government.

Russia on Wednesday called for an impartial investigation into the latest "barbaric" violence in and around Damascus.

"We insist on a meticulous and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the latest tragic events" using the resources of the United Nations' newly opened office in Damascus, the Russian foreign ministry said.

It singled out the car bomb and the discovery of several hundred bodies near the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Sunday that the rebels charge was the result of a massacre by regime forces.

In violence nationwide on Wednesday, at least 101 people were killed, including 56 civilians, according to the Observatory, which says more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-long revolt.

The new UN-Arab League envoy on the Syria conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, wants to visit Damascus in the next three weeks, his spokesman told reporters at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon held talks in Tehran with Iran's leaders including on the Syria conflict.

After meeting parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Iran's parliamentary news website quoted Ban as saying: "Iran can play an important role in solving the Syrian crisis peacefully."

In Paris, the French presidency said Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had agreed that there could be no political solution for Syria unless Assad left power, in a telephone conversation with Hollande.
 

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