Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will project an image of calm control when he takes to Syrian television for a sit-down interview tonight, saying he can sum up the regime’s fight against the rebel forces in a single sentence: “We’re heading forward.”
The interview with the pro-regime al-Dunya TV will be aired tonight, and portions of Assad’s remarks were revealed in previews of the screening. Facing his interviewer across a coffee table in a blue suit and tie, Assad appears at ease as he discusses his government’s fight to contain the 18-month-old uprising that seeks to overthrow it.
“The situation on the ground is better now, but the conclusion is not there yet,” he says. “That needs more time."
Assad has largely kept out of the public eye since the rebel push was punctuated by a bombing in Damascus that killed four members of his inner circle last month. Rumors have swirled about his whereabouts ever since. In the interview, Assad seeks to put them to rest.
“The president should appear every day on TV, so we don’t hear rumors. Where are you now, Mr. President?” the Dunya journalist asks.
“I’m here with you in Damascus, inside the [presidential] palace,” Assad replies with a smile.
He strikes a defiant tone, pushing back against calls for international intervention and shrugging off the wave of defections that has plagued his regime. “It’s a good thing that they left,” he says. “The operation that’s going on now is the cleansing of our nation.”
In the aftermath of the bombing, and surprise rebel offensives in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two main cities, the regime appeared shaken. But it seems to have weathered the assaults in both cities with overpowering shows of force, pounding rebel forces and civilian areas alike with heavy artillery and fighter jets.
One sign of the increased violence is a surge in the number of refugees pouring across Syria’s borders. In remarks to the press yesterday, the chief spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency said that over the previous week, 10,200 Syrians had fled into Jordan—more than double the number from the week before. Five thousand Syrians, meanwhile, were fleeing to Turkey a day, she said, compared with 400 to 500 a day in previous weeks.
The situation has sparked talk of establishing “buffer zones” inside Syria for the safeguarding of refugees. Turkey has been particularly aggressive in this push, as the number of Syrians taking shelter in the country quickly approaches the 100,000 figure it had marked as a breaking point. At a press conference in Ankara today, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, reiterated the government’s calls for the United Nations to “engage” on the subject. “When we talk about figures in the hundreds of thousands, this problem no longer remains a problem of an internal conflict in any one country but becomes an international dangerous problem,” he said.
In the Dunya interview, Assad is dismissive of such talk. "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," he says, criticizing “the ignorance of some Turkish officials.”
Assad praises Syria’s armed forces, saying they are “doing heroic acts in every sense of the word.”
“The Army is the main reason this country is still standing on its feet,” he says.
Assad also suggests that the conflict will continue to drag out. “The crisis is not over yet,” he says. “I think this is a battle of wills.”