Western powers would cause an “earthquake” in the Middle East if they intervened in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published on Sunday, after protesters demanded outside protection from a crackdown that has killed 3,000 people.
Syrian officials were to hold more talks in Qatar with delegates of the Arab League, which wants to convene a dialogue in Cairo between the Syrian authorities and their opponents.
The League’s two-week deadline for the planned dialogue to start expires on Sunday, with Assad showing no signs of easing the crackdown, which is drawing increasing international outrage and criticism even from previously cautious Arab countries.
Syria, as Assad noted in his interview with UK’s Sunday Telegraph, sits at the heart of the volatile Middle East, where it borders Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
“It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake,” he said. “Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?”
His remarks signal determination to hang onto power against a popular uprising that repression has failed to crush.
Mass protests have also failed to dislodge him, creating an unstable stalemate, which could perhaps be upset by the impact of Western sanctions or any surge in army and police defections.