Syria’s president defended Hezbollah’s military role in his war-torn country in an interview aired on the Shiite party’s Al-Manar television, saying the party was intervening in Al-Qusayr to stop an attempt to “choke the Resistance.”
“What is happening in Al-Qusayr is related to Israel… they are aiming to choke the resistance from land and sea,” Bashar al-Assad said in the interview broadcasted Thursday night.
“Why is Hezbollah present on the border inside Syria? Because the battle is one against Israel and its agents in [both] Syria and Lebanon,” he added.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday said that his party was fighting alongside the Syrian regime against “takfiris” in the country and vowed that his party and the Syrian regime would emerge victorious.
Both Hezbollah and regime troops have engaged in fierce battles in a campaign to seize the strategic rebel-held town of Al-Qusayr near the Lebanese border in recent weeks. Syrian rebels have responded to the campaign by threatening to hit Hezbollah within Lebanon, and two Grad rockets struck the Hezbollah-stronghold of Dahiyeh in southern Beirut hours after Nasrallah’s most recent speech.
The Syrian leader tackled Lebanon’s policy of disassociation regarding its neighbor, saying that “everyone knows Lebanon contributed to the Syrian crisis negatively.”
“What disassociation are we talking about?... When the government disassociates itself from an issue effecting its citizens, it is disassociating itself from the citizens themselves.”
However, the Syrian leader stressed that he did not want to be seen as criticizing the Lebanese government.
Assad also said that Syria would not sit idly if Israel hit his country again for transferring advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.
“We informed foreign powers that we would respond to any [Israeli] strike with a strike of our own,” the Syrian leader warned.
“If we want to retaliate against Israel, the retaliation must be a strategic one,” Assad said in reference to his regime’s policy of opening a “front” against Israel along the Golan Heights contested between the two countries.
Assad also spoke about Russian arms shipments to his country, but gave only a vague answer on whether the controversial S-300 anti-air defense system was being shipped to his country after Tel Aviv and Moscow engaged in a war of words over the issue.
“What we agreed upon with Russia will be implemented, and part of it has been implemented recently,” he said.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday warned Israel would "know what to do" if Russia delivered promised anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian regime. Moscow had on Tuesday defended its weapons shipments and said they would lead to “stability.”
Israel has launched several air raids inside Syria this year, targeting convoys transporting weapons to its arch foe Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Assad also spoke about the proposed Geneva II peace conference, saying that his country sought to negotiate with the powers backing rebel groups in his country, and not the rebels themselves.
However, the Syrian leader warned that some powers were aiming to “sabotage the conference,” adding that if the proposed talks fall through, “nothing will change the reality on the ground.”
Regarding future political transition efforts, the Syrian president said that his country’s people would decide on the country’s fate.
“If I feel that the people want me to run for president, then I will run,” he said in reference to the presidential elections scheduled for 2014.
Russia and the US have been working to convene an international conference on the Syrian crisis in Geneva, however the Syrian opposition coalition has said that it would only attend if Hezbollah stops its campaign in Al-Qusayr. Meanwhile, Russia warned that a European Union decision to lift its arms embargo on the rebels fighting to oust Assad harmed international efforts to end the conflict.