BEIRUT (Reuters) - An Arab League deadline for Syria to end its repression of anti-government unrest passed with no sign of violence abating, and President Bashar al-Assad remained defiant in the face of growing international isolation.
“The conflict will continue and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper. “Syria will not bow down.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 people were killed Saturday by government security forces. Friday dozens were reported killed in clashes.
The Arab League had Wednesday set a Saturday deadline for Syria to comply with a peace plan which would entail a military pullout from around restive areas, and threatened sanctions if Assad failed to end the violence.
The League, a group of Arab states, suspended Syria’s membership in a surprise move last week.
Non-Arab Turkey, once an ally of Assad’s, is also taking an increasingly tough attitude to Damascus.
Turkish newspapers said Saturday Ankara had contingency plans to create no-fly or buffer zones to protect civilians in neighboring Syria if the bloodshed worsens.
“It’s almost certain that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is going down, all the assessments are made based on this assumption. Foreign Ministry sources say that the sooner the regime goes down, the better for Turkey,” one paper said.
“It is out of the question that Turkey carries out a military intervention to change the regime. However, it takes a flexible stance on opposition groups running activities in Turkey.”
Turkish President Abdullah Gul told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper: “With a strong and clear voice we are saying that the legitimate demands of the (Syrian) people are being supported by us.”
The United Nations says the crackdown on the Syrian protests has killed at least 3,500 people since March. Authorities blame the violence on foreign-backed armed groups which it says have killed some 1,100 soldiers and police.
Syria has barred most independent journalists from entering the country, making it difficult to verify reports from activists or officials.
Dissident colonel Riad al-Asaad, organizing defectors in Syria from his new base in southern Turkey, said in a television interview with Al Jazeera Saturday that no foreign military intervention was needed other than providing a no-fly zone and weapons supplies.
He said more deserters would swell his Free Syrian Army’s ranks if there were protected zones to which they could flee: “Soldiers and officers in the army are waiting for the right opportunity.”
The dissident colonel denied government allegations that neighboring states were allowing arms smuggling across their borders into Syria. He said “not a single bullet” had been smuggled from abroad.
Weapons were brought by defectors, obtained in raids on the regular army or bought from arms dealers inside Syria, he said.
Saturday, Syria’s state news agency SANA said security forces had captured 140 wanted men from several parts of the country that had seen protests.
President Assad repeated his assertion that any foreign military action against Syria would create an “earthquake” across the Middle East.
“If they are logical, rational and realistic, they shouldn’t do it because the repercussions are very dire. Military intervention will destabilize the region as a whole, and all countries will be affected,” he said.
Writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Andrew Heavens