Assad warns West: Interference in Syria will burn Mideast
Assad says foreign intervention would trigger 'earthquake' and turn country into 'another Afghanistan'; comments come after protesters demand imposition of a no-fly zone to protect civilians from government crackdowns.
Syrian President Bashar Assad warned on Sunday that Western interference in his country could cause an "earthquake" that would "burn the whole region" and transform the country into "another Afghanistan."
"Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake," said Assad in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.
"Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?"
His comments come after protesters took to the streets on Friday demanding the imposition of a no-fly zone in the country to protect civilians from government crackdowns.
Protests began in mid-March demanding greater freedoms, political reforms and the ouster of Assad.
More than 3,000 people, including 187 children, have been killed in the government's clampdown, according to the United Nations.
Assad admitted to the newspaper that "many mistakes" had been made by his forces in the early part of the uprising, but insisted that only "terrorists" were now being targeted.
"We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaida," he said. "If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen. Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That's why the fighting is becoming much less."
On Friday, at least 40 people were killed, including 17 army defectors who died in clashes with government forces, opposition and rights groups said.
Assad said his government had responded differently to the "Arab Spring" than other leaders.
"Six days after (the protests began), I commenced reform," Assad said.
The Arab League sent a message to Syria expressing concerns over the continued killing of civilians in Syria.
Damascus rejected the message, saying it was "based on lies."
An Arab League's committee of foreign ministers is due to meet Sunday in the Qatari capital Doha. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem is expected attend the meeting, state television reported.
The committee, headed by Qatar and comprises the foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Oman and Sudan, held talks Wednesday with Assad on ending the unrest and starting dialogue between the government and opposition.