Assad’s statements, in an interview with pro-regime Addounia channel to be screened yesterday night, came a day after a car bomb rocked a funeral in a Damascus suburb killing 27 people, and as a watchdog reported 189 people killed in Syria’s civil war on Tuesday.
“I can summarise in one phrase: we are progressing, the situation on the ground is better but we have not yet won – this will take more time,” Assad said in advance excerpts of the interview broadcast by the private channel.
Assad also rejected at an idea being championed by Turkey of creating buffer zones within Syria to receive those displaced by the conflict so that they do not flood across the borders into neighbouring countries.
“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 said.
French President Francois Hollande said on Monday France was working with its partners on the possible establishment of such buffer zones.
But his foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, admitted yesterday that implementation of the plans would be “very complicated” and would require the imposition of partial no-fly zones.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meanwhile said Turkey is in talks with the United Nations on ways to shelter thousands of refugees on Syrian soil and expects the world body to take concrete steps.
“We expect the United Nations to step in for the protection of refugees inside Syria and if possible housing them in camps there,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
He was speaking before leaving for New York where he was to attend UN Security Council meeting on refugees Thursday.
Assad also mocked those defecting from his regime, saying their departure amounted to a “self-cleansing of the government firstly and the country generally.”
Syria’s government has been rattled by several high-profile defections as the conflict has escalated, including former prime minister Riad Hijab and prominent General Manaf Tlass, one of Assad’s childhood friends.
“Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond” between the regime and the Syrian people, Assad insisted, boasting the support of the majority of the country’s population.
Addounia said it would screen the full interview at 1800 GMT yesterday.
Battle for Taftanaz airport
Syrian rebels, meanwhile, said they destroyed five helicopters in a raid on a military airport between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib yesterday, while state television said the attack was repelled.
Abu Mossab, a rebel who said he took part in the attack, told AFP via Skype that rebels shelled Taftanaz military airport with two tanks captured from the army and destroyed five helicopters.
“We destroyed five helicopters as well as buildings in the airport,” Abu Mossab said, although the facility remained in army hands after the raid in which the rebels lost two men before pulling back.
Syrian state television said the military repelled the attack with the airport suffering “no material damage.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported fierce fighting near the airport and helicopter raids on the nearby town of Taftanaz.
Initial reports indicated government troops suffered 14 casualties in Taftanaz, while two rebels and a civilian were killed elsewhere in Idlib province, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
And in Damascus, activists reported a third straight day of army attacks on rebel strongholds in the eastern outer belt of the city, collectively referred to as East Ghuta.
State media said “terrorist mercenaries” had killed four civilians in Zamalka, using its term for rebels fighting government forces since Syria’s anti-regime uprising broke out in March 2011.
They had “murdered citizens, including women and men, under the eyes of inhabitants … The terrorists then gathered the bodies of the victims and put them in a mosque in Qadi Askar” district, state news agency SANA said.
It said the assailants had planned to blow up the mosque and then blame the attack on government forces.
State-run newspaper Tishrin said Tuesday’s car bombing of a funeral in Damascus was an indication that the “terrorist” groups have reached a very advanced stage of despair and bankruptcy.”
The bombing hit Jaramana, a mainly Druze and Christian town on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus that the Observatory described as generally supportive of Assad’s government.
State media blamed rebel fighters for the bombing, but the opposition Syrian National Council accused Assad’s regime of staging the bombing against its own supporters in a bid to divert attention from the killings of hundreds of people during an army assault on a largely Sunni Muslim suburb of the capital last week.
Violence on Tuesday cost 189 lives: 143 civilians, 14 rebels and 32 soldiers, the Observatory said. It says a total of more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-long revolt.