* Assad says making progress in "regional, global battle"
* Dismisses talk of safe haven as impractical
* Turkey presses UN to shelter displaced within Syria
BEIRUT, Aug 29 President Bashar al-Assad said
talk of a Western-imposed buffer zone on Syrian territory was
unrealistic and that the situation in his country was "better",
but more time was needed to win the conflict against rebels
trying to overthrow him.
Assad was speaking in an interview with Syria's Addounia
television, excerpts of which were broadcast on Wednesday.
The president, responding to rumours concerning his
whereabouts since a July bombing in Damascus, said he was
speaking from the presidential palace in the capital.
"I believe that talk about a buffer zone is not practical,
even for those countries which are playing a hostile role
(against Syria)," Assad said.
Neighbouring Turkey has floated the idea of a "safe zone" to
be set up for civilians under foreign protection as fighting has
intensified in the 17-month-old uprising against Assad.
French President Francois Hollande said on Monday his
country supported the Turkish proposal.
Turkey once cultivated good relations with Assad but turned
against him over his violent response to the uprising. Turkish
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has become one of Assad's harshest
critics and has raised the possibility of military intervention
in Syria if Kurdish rebels became a threat there.
"Will we go backwards because of the ignorance of some
Turkish officials? ... (The Turkish people) have stood by us
during the crisis," Assad said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged the United
Nations on Wednesday to care for displaced Syrians inside their
country instead of letting them flood into Turkey, which already
hosts more than 80,000 refugees.
CALL FOR U.N. ACTION
Ankara, fearing a mass influx such as the flight of half a
million Iraqi Kurds into Turkey after the 1991 Gulf War, has
floated the idea of a "safe zone" under foreign protection
within Syria for civilians fleeing intensifying violence.
"We expect the United Nations to engage on the topic of
protecting refugees inside Syria and if possible sheltering them
in camps there," Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara.
NATO-member Turkey is reluctant to act alone to set up a
safe haven inside Syria since protecting it from attack by
Syrian forces would effectively mean military intervention.
Yet there is scant Western appetite for military action in
Syria and no prospect of a U.N. Security Council mandate for it,
given Russian and Chinese willingness to veto any such proposal.
Davutoglu was speaking shortly before going to New York to
attend a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria on Thursday.
The United Nations says at least 18,000 people have been
killed in Syria since demonstrations first erupted against
Assad's rule in March last year.
Mainly peaceful protests were met with force by Assad's
security forces, and the uprising has degenerated into a civil
war with sectarian overtones. The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are
backed by regional Sunni powers. Assad, whose Alawite community
is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has Iranian support.
"We are engaged in a regional and global battle and it needs
time to be resolved. But I can say.... that we are making
progress and the situation, practically, is better. But it has
not been resolved," the Syrian leader said.
Assad, who has vowed to defeat insurgents he describes as
Islamist terrorists, praised the army and security forces who he
said "are doing a heroic job in every sense".
"I tell the Syrian people that the fate of Syria is in their