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Syria

Syria's Assad warns of retaliation over further Israeli airstrikes

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has warned of retaliation in the face of any further Israeli airstrikes. In a television interview the president said he was confident of victory in the nation's 26-month civil war.

Speaking in an interview broadcast on Thursday, Assad said he had informed other countries he was prepared to strike back against an Israeli attack. Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus last month, reportedly targeting shipments of weapons allegedly destined for Hezbollah. Syria did not respond at the time.

"We have informed all the parties who have contacted us that we will respond to any Israeli aggression next time" the president told the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar.

"If we are going to retaliate against Israel, this retaliation should be a strategic response," he added.

Weapons from Russia?

He went on say that Russia was committed to supplying Syria with advanced missiles. The president also appeared to imply that Russia had already delivered some of the promised S-300 missile systems.

"All the agreements with Russia will be honored and some already have been recently," he said, although refused to confirm definitively whether he was referring to the S-300 missiles.

The Russian missiles have a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and would significantly boost Syria's air defenses. The United States and Israel have both urged Russia to cancel the sale. Earlier this week, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said it considered the missile shipment a threat, indicating that it was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.

Russia announced earlier this week that it intended to honor the contract. Defending the decision, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the missiles would serve as a "stabilizing factor" to deter foreign intervention.

Ryabkov's comments came as the Assad regime claimed several military victories in the ongoing battle for the strategic western town of Qusair.

Opposition declines summit invitation

On Thursday the opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition meeting in Istanbul declined an invitation to attend international peace talks in Geneva next month, citing Assad regime's Hezbollah-backed offensive in the town.

It said it would not take part in the Russia-US led peace initiative, a summit dubbed Geneva 2, "so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah keep up their invasion." It also insisted that any negotiations with the regime must lead to Assad's resignation.

Assad has said he is willing to attend the talks "in principle," but stipulated that any deal reached in Geneva would have to be put to a referendum.The United Nations said a preparatory meeting for the proposed conference would take place in Geneva next Wednesday, attended by Russian, US and UN officials.

Westerwelle urges attendance

Visiting Canada, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged the Syrian opposition to attend the summit.

"I urgently call on the national coalition of the Syrian opposition to fulfill its responsibility," Westerwelle said.

Syria's two-year-long civil war has claimed at least 80,000 lives, according to UN figures. Several million people have been displaced within Syria and 1.5 million have fled into neighboring countries.

ccp/rg (AFP, AP)

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