BEIRUT (TheBlaze/AP) — Syria’s president warned that Europe “will pay a price” if it delivers weapons to the rebels fighting him, saying in an interview published Monday that arming them would backfire as the “terrorists” return to their countries with extremist ideologies.
Assad further warned that as the conflict spills into neighboring countries, blurring borders, it will set off a domino effect.
“Nobody can imagine how the region would look like in case of a redrawing of the map. That will be a map for uncounted wars in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere, that nobody can stop,” he said.
Assad’s comments were his first since last week’s decision by President Barack Obama to authorize weapons and ammunition shipments to Syrian rebels, after confirming that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against them.
The European Union has also allowed a weapons embargo against Syria to expire, allowing members of the 27-nation bloc to arm the rebels. France and Britain are moving in that direction, but the German government opposes such a move.
Assad’s interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Runschau appeared aimed at reinforcing German skepticism.
“If the Europeans ship weapons, Europe’s backyard becomes a terrorists’ place, and Europe will pay a price for it,” Assad threatened in Arabic comments translated into German.
Chaos in Syria would result in “the direct export of terrorism to Europe,” he warned. “Terrorists will return to Europe with fighting experience and extremist ideologies.”
Assad also insisted that European efforts to distinguish between good and bad rebels when it comes to shipping weapons is like trying to “[differentiate] between `good’ and `bad’ Taliban a few years ago, or a `good’ and `bad’ al-Qaida.”
The interview was conducted in a government building in Damascus last week. Following the U.S. decision on Friday, the president answered a few more questions via email Sunday, the newspaper said.
Assad disputed the U.S. administration’s findings that at least 150 people have been killed in chemical weapons attacks in Syria, saying that Western countries have yet to unveil evidence to prove their claim.
“Weapons of mass destruction are capable of killing hundreds, thousands at once. That’s why they are used. That’s why it is not logical to use chemical weapons to kill a number of people that can be achieved through conventional weapons,” Assad said.
“If Paris, London and Washington had only one piece of evidence backing up their allegations, they would have unveiled it to the world,” he added.
At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to a recent U.N. estimate. Millions have been displaced.
The civil war is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni Muslims against Shiites. It is also threatening the stability of Syria’s neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.
Sunnis, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, dominate the rebel ranks, while the Assad regime is mostly made up of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
Sectarian divisions deepened and the conflict further expanded a few weeks ago, when Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite militant Hezbollah openly joined the fight inside Syria on the Assad’s side.
In addition to arming the rebels, Washington has also been contemplating other options, including imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, though no decision has been made.
Assad’s air force has been his most lethal weapon, relying on it to prevent rebels from holding on to territory won on the ground.
A spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Alexander Lukashevich, said in a televised news conference Monday that “there are no conditions and no need for a no-fly zone” in Syria, adding that such measures by the U.S. and others would be “counterproductive.”
Ahead of the G-8 meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron that “one should hardly back those who kill their enemy and eat their organs,” presumably referring to a shocking video of a Syrian rebel seemingly cutting out and eating the heart of a soldier.
Cameron conceded Monday there is a disagreement on Syria, but said Russia, like all G-8 governments, has a responsibility to push opposing factions in the civil war to the negotiating table as rapidly as possible and not to back a government that “butchers” its citizens.
CBS News has more on the story:
Associated Press writers Juergen Baetz in Berlin, John Heilprin in Geneva, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah contributed to this report.