By Gamal Fahnbulleh
Syria’s President Bashar Assad has vowed to defend and die in his country if necessary, as anti-government protests continue.
Speaking to the Sunday Times in his first Western media interview since the uprising began, Mr Assad promised to crackdown on all opponents despite alienation from the international community.
He told the newspaper of a promise to personally fight and die to resist foreign forces.
“You have to ask who killed 800 officers, soldiers and policemen on the streets, so we are not talking about peaceful demonstrators, we are talking about militants,” President Assad said.
His comments come as at least 14 people died in clashes between government troops and protesters. But President Assad remains defiant.
The interview comes just days before Foreign Secretary William Hague is due to meet with Syrian rebel leaders in London.
“Whenever you have militants you have killings so the role of the government is to fight the militants in order to restore stability and to protect the civilians,” Mr Assad said.
“Not by leaving them to do what they want to do. This is our job and that’s what we are doing.”
Mr Assad has also accused the 22-member Arab League, which suspended Syria last week, of meddling in his country’s affairs and creating a pretext for western intervention into Syria.
But he also accepts mistakes have been made but by individuals and not the state, and is adamant external forces are to blame for Syria’s problems.
“We have to prevent militants from killing civilians and doing massacres in different places around Syria. We have to stop smuggling of armaments from outside Syria through the border of neighbouring countries,” he said.
“We have to stop the money coming in to support the militants – again across the borders. That’s what we have to do.”