Assad Says to Run in 2014 Poll if People Want, Hizbullah Fighting in Qusayr Only
Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Thursday that he would run in the 2014 presidential poll if that is the desire of the Syrian people, noting that Hizbullah is only fighting in the town of Qusayr, not entire Syria.
"The main battle is in Damascus and Aleppo, not in Qusayr, and Hizbullah has a limited number of fighters, even if they numbered 2,000, but we're speaking of a war involving thousands of fighters," Assad said in an interview with al-Manar television.
"The course of the battles does not indicate that someone is seeking partitioning," Assad added.
He noted that the timing of the Qusayr battle is linked to the “Israeli escalation, because the objective is to besiege the resistance by land and sea.”
“Some of Israel's agents in Lebanon tried on May 7 (2008) to seize control of the resistance's telecommunications network, forcing the resistance to exist in Beirut, and Hizbullah is now in Syria because Israel is involved,” Assad clarified.
The military support of Hizbullah has helped Syrian regime forces gain the upper hand in the battle for control of Qusayr, a key town for both the regime and the insurgents, where a fierce army assault began 12 days ago.
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had previously justified the group's involvement in Syria by saying they were defending Lebanese-inhabited border villages inside Syria and Shiite holy sites.
But the offensive on the mostly-Sunni town of Qusayr forced the movement to change its argument.
"Syria is the rear guard of the resistance (Hizbullah's fight with Israel), its backbone, and the resistance cannot stay with its arms folded when its rear guard is exposed," Nasrallah said on Saturday in a speech for the 13th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.
Nasrallah stressed that Hizbullah will win the battle against the “United States, Israel and the Takfiris just like it emerged victorious in previous wars.”
Assad added: "Lebanon is strong through its resistance and resistance fighters and we need the resistance fighters more than ever."
Slamming perceived interference in his country by Hizbullah's rivals, Assad said: "Lebanon contributed to the Syrian crisis and if fire is raging in my neighbor's house, it will spread into my house."
"Has Lebanon managed to prevent the smuggling of terrorists into Syria? No. Has Lebanon managed to protect itself from the Syrian crisis? No. So about what self-dissociation are we talking?" he added.
Asked about the recent Israeli strikes on Syria, Assad said: "We have informed all foreign parties that we will retaliate against any future Israeli attack, although we directly responded in the past."
He noted that there is "popular pressure" to open a military front against Israel on the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state has occupied since 1967.
"There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan," Assad said, adding that "there are several factors, including repeated Israeli aggression."
He said he is "very confident" his troops will prevail over rebel forces in Syria's bloody civil war which has raged since March 2011.
"There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of (anti-Israeli) resistance ... (but) we are very confident of victory," Assad said.
He declared that he will run in the leadership election scheduled for 2014 if the Syrian people want him to contest the polls.
"This question will be decided at the given moment. If I feel there is any need for my candidacy, and that will be decided after consulting the people, I will not hesitate to stand," the embattled leader told al-Manar.
Asked about the promised delivery of the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles, Assad replied: "All the agreements with Russia will be honored and some already have been recently."
Israel's defense chief, Moshe Yaalon, said earlier this week that Russia's plan to supply Syria with the weapons is a threat and that Israel was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.
“Russia is committed to implementing the weapons contracts it had signed with us and the crisis or (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu have nothing to do with that. The delivery of some weapons has been completed and the rest will be delivered later,” said Assad.
Turning to the issue of the proposed peace conference, Assad said: “I have not read (Syrian National Coalition member Moaz) Khatib's initiative and I'm not sure that it is his own initiative, but I want to thank them because I learned that they have given me 20 days to leave together with 500 people.”
“We will go to the Geneva conference as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people and we will return to Syria, but they will return to their hotels,” Assad said of the opposition in exile.
“We will go to negotiate with the countries that are backing the opposition, which means we will negotiate with the master, not with the West's slave,” Assad added.
He said the regime's precondition is that “anything we agree on will be put to a referendum.”
“The Arab countries that are backing the terrorists have not changed and Turkey has not changed, but let us be clear, we do not pin our hopes on the Arab League,” said Assad.