Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has threatened Israel with retaliation over future military aggression, as more than 1000 rebels rushed to the besieged city of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.
George Sabra, the interim president of the Syrian National Coalition said on Friday that opposition fighters were flooding into Qusayr, which had been under rebel control for months until government troops moved to retake the key town in Homs province two weeks ago.
“More than 1000 fighters from the Free Syrian Army from all over Syria are now joining the resistance inside Qusayr to defend against the foreign terrorist invaders, who are infiltrating our country from Lebanon and other places,” Sabra said.
Assad, whose forces were battling alongside fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, to recapture Qusayr, said earlier in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al Manar television that he was confident of victory.
“There is a world war being waged against Syria and the policy of (anti-Israeli) resistance… (but) we are very confident of victory,” he said.
He said that his troops would retaliate to any future military aggression by Israel with renewed fighting in the Golan Heights.
“We have informed all the parties who have contacted us that we will respond to any Israeli aggression next time,” Assad told Al Manar TV on Thursday.
“There is clear popular pressure to open a new front of resistance in the Golan.”
Russian agreements ‘honoured’
There was no immediate comment on Assad’s remarks from Israel, which seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Assad also said Syria would be willing to attend peace talks, backed by Russia and the US, with the opposition in principle next month in Geneva, but any subsequent deal would have to be approved by a referendum.
He also said weapons contracts with Russia were not linked to the crisis, and that he would contest presidential elections next year if the Syrian people want him to.
“All the agreements with Russia will be honoured and some already have been recently,” he said.
“The only condition [to attend peace talks] is that anything to be implemented will be submitted to Syrian public opinion and a Syrian referendum.”
Agreeing in principle to talks showed a lack of relevance to the diplomatic process, said Geneive Abdo, a fellow in the Middle East programme at the Stimson Centre in Washington.
“This is not good ahead of peace talks in Geneva,” she told Al Jazeera.
Coalition talks ending
Assad’s interview was broadcast on Thursday as the main opposition coalition wrapped up several days of talks in Istanbul.
Syria’s divided opposition group officially expanded early on Friday to include 43 new members, after eight days of meetings marred by internal bickering and international pressure.
The total number of National Coalition members is now 114, acting chief George Sabra told reporters, adding that the general assembly was now finished.
Among the new Coalition seats are “15 from the (rebel Free Syrian Army’s) Chief of Staff, 14 members of the revolutionary movements inside Syria and 14 others”, Sabra said.
Sabra said earlier that the opposition would not participate in the Geneva talks until the international community intervened to end a siege in Qusayr.
“The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria,” Sabra said.
Reports have said up to 4,000 Hezbollah fighters have joined forces with the Syrian military, which has claimed to be winning the battle.
Khaled Saleh, the SNC spokesman, who addressed the news conference after Sabra, said civilians in the town had been “severely wounded” and Qusayr had been completely cut off by forces loyal to Assad.
“Civilians have no access to water, electricity and the massacre continues minute by minute while the Assad regime continues to use weapons” it receives from allies, he said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tamman Salam said his country should stay out of the Syrian conflict, in an interview published in Friday’s edition of the French daily newspaper Le Figaro.
“We must at all price preserve national unity,” he said.
“And obviously, Hezbollah’s military involvement is not helpling matters.”
The battle of the town, which is close to the border with Lebanon, is considered strategic, and foreign fighters are reportedly supporting both sides.