Assad says Syrian army has no orders to shell Turkish land
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that the Syrian army has no orders to shell Turkish territory, although he conceded that Syrian forces might have fired the mortar bombs or artillery shells that have been landing in Turkey for weeks, given that it is involved in clashes with opposition forces near the Turkish border.

In an interview with the English-language news channel Russia Today broadcast on Friday, Assad said a joint committee of Turkish and Syrian officials should investigate who is responsible for the shelling, noting that the Syrian opposition could well have fired mortars into Turkey given that they also have mortars.

"We asked the Turkish government to establish this committee but they refused; so you cannot have the answer. But when you have these terrorists on your borders you cannot exclude them from doing so, because the Syrian army does not have any orders to shell Turkish land, because we do not have any interest in this and we do not harbor any enmity against the Turkish people. We consider them as brothers, so why do it? Unless it happened by mistake. It needs investigation," Assad said.

Turkey has carried out a series of retaliatory strikes against Syrian forces since a mortar bomb fired from Syria killed five Turkish civilians in a Turkish border town at the start of October. The Turkish government has said there is no doubt that the mortar was fired by Syrian forces, although a senior US official recently stated that the origin of the shells is in dispute.

Following the border clashes between Turkey and Syria, Ankara closed its airspace to all Syrian planes early in October.

Assad said that despite growing tensions, he did not expect a war between Turkey and Syria, as the Turkish people would not support such a move. "I do not think any rational official would think of going against the will of the public in his country, and the same for the Syrian people. So the conflict or difference is not between the Turkish people and the Syrian people; it is about the government and officials, it is between our officials and their officials, because of their politics. So I do not see any war between Syria and Turkey on the horizon," he said.

Anti-government activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed so far in the Syrian conflict, including thousands of government troops. Several hundred thousand Syrians have fled to Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq.

'Erdoğan thinks of himself as a caliph'

Assad accused Erdoğan of having ambitions to control the region as it was during the time of the Ottoman Empire, likening him to an "Ottoman caliph."

"Erdoğan thinks that if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over in the region, and especially in Syria, he can guarantee his political future; this is one reason. The other reason: He personally thinks that he is the new sultan of the Ottomans, and he can control the region as it was during the Ottoman Empire, under a new umbrella. In his heart he thinks he is a caliph," he said.

'Syria does not suffer from civil war, but proxy terrorism'

Assad also insisted that his country is not in a state of civil war, arguing instead that Syria is facing "terrorism through proxies," referring to foreign backing of the rebellion against his regime.

"We do not have a civil war," Assad said. "It is about terrorism and the support coming from abroad to terrorists to destabilize Syria. This is our war."

"It is a new kind of war; terrorism through proxies, either Syrians living in Syria or foreign fighters coming from abroad," Assad said. "So it is a new style of war; this is a first, and you have to adapt to this style, and it takes time, it is not easy."

He acknowledged his troops are fighting a "tough war and a difficult war," adding that when foreign countries stop sending arms to the opposition, "I can tell [you] that in weeks we can finish everything."

Assad spoke in English in the interview, which was broadcast in full on Friday. In an excerpt aired a day earlier, Assad said he would "live and die" in Syria and would not leave his country.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-09 20:00:02
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