A defiant President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday rejected calls that he seek a safe exit, vowing he will “live in Syria and die in Syria” and warning that the world cannot afford the cost of foreign intervention.
“I am not a puppet. I was not made by the West to go to the West or to any other country,” Assad said in English in an interview with Russian state-backed Russia Today (RT) television.
“I am Syrian, I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria,” he said, according to transcripts posted on RT’s website.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron floated the idea of granting Assad safe passage from the country, saying it “could be arranged,” although he wanted him to face international justice.
Assad, who has made only rare public statements in recent months, also warned against foreign intervention in Syria’s escalating conflict, saying such a move would have regional and global consequences.
“We are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region… it will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” the transcript said.
Many in Syria’s opposition, including rebels battling pro-regime forces, have urged international intervention to stop the escalating bloodshed.
As the violence continued, Syrians from a wide spectrum of the opposition met in Qatar and appeared close to reaching agreement on a unified political structure, key dissidents said.
Heavy clashes for control of the mainly Kurdish northeastern town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border killed 16 soldiers and 10 rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syrian state television reported that “troops killed dozens of terrorists who tried to attack Ras al-Ain” and the rebels then fled back into Turkey.
Turkish media reported five Turks wounded by ricochets from across the border.
Kurdish leader Shalal Kedo, speaking from his base in north Iraq, said reports from Ras al-Ain said that “more than 70” regime vehicles headed for the town and that rebels were urging people to flee.
Violence also broke out in the southern Damascus neighbourhood of Qadam and in Mazzeh in the west of the capital, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground.
It said at least 108 people were killed on Thursday, including 48 soldiers.
The Observatory says more than 37,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement and then an armed rebellion after the regime cracked down on demonstrations.
In Qatar, meanwhile, a meeting of the opposition appeared close to a deal as they hammered out a government-in-waiting they hope world powers will accept as credible and representative.
“We are moving towards agreement,” said Burhan Ghalioun, former chief of the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).
Prominent dissident Riad Seif, who has proposed a Western-backed initiative to unite the opposition and form a transitional government, was also upbeat.
“We are very optimistic” an agreement can be reached “tonight or tomorrow,” Seif told reporters.
Some 400 SNC members earlier voted in a new Islamist-dominated 41-member general secretariat, which will now be tasked with electing 11 members to appoint a successor to outgoing president Abdel Basset Sayda.
The process has been delayed until Friday to allow four members representing women and minorities to be added to the secretariat for the vote, amid pressure from Washington for the SNC to be more representative.
Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy head of the Arab League — which with Qatar is brokering the meeting — told reporters in Doha that delegates had been urged to overcome the divisions that have dogged their efforts to unseat Assad.
In Geneva, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said the aid group was finding it difficult to manage a crisis that has also forced hundreds of thousands or people from their homes.
“The humanitarian situation is getting worse despite the scope of the operation increasing,” he told reporters. “We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation.”
And in Ankara, Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed his country was in talks with NATO about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles on its soil, while insisting this would be purely defensive.
“Patriots… are being discussed within NATO. It is only natural for us to take any measure for defence reasons,” Gul told reporters, adding that it was “out of the question for Turkey to start a war with Syria.”
Media reports have suggested the missiles could be deployed to create a partial no-fly zone and allow for the establishment of safe havens inside Syria.