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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 06:52 AM

President warns against invasion of Syria

By Patrick J. McDonnell
Los Angeles Times

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad predicted a global catastrophe should the West invade his country, and representatives of Syria's notoriously divided opposition struggled Thursday to form a united government-in-exile against Assad's beleaguered rule.

The International Red Cross, meanwhile, warned that it could no longer "cope" with the fast-expanding humanitarian crisis in Syria, where a civil war has left millions in need of shelter, medical aid, food and other necessities.

In an interview with the Russian RT television channel, Assad sketched an apocalyptic scenario should the West mount an invasion of Syria, where foreign-backed armed rebels are fighting to depose him.

"I think the price of this invasion, if it happens, is ... too big," Assad, speaking in English, told the Russian station in one of his infrequent recent interviews. "More than the whole world can afford. ... We are the last stronghold of secularity and stability in the region. And coexistence, let's say. It will have a domino effect ... from the Atlantic to the Pacific."

The Syrian president, whose family has ruled the country for 40 years, has frequently depicted his government as stoutly manning the ramparts of stability in a volatile region beset by religious, ethnic and political divides.

The Syrian president said he believed an invasion of his country was unlikely, but he stressed that in the event of such an attack "nobody can tell what's next."

Most independent experts agree that the United States and other foreign powers supporting the Syrian opposition are extremely unlikely to deploy troops to Syria.

The Syrian opposition itself has rejected the notion of a foreign invasion and instead has called on the United States and other nations to provide the rebels with advanced weaponry and air support.

The Obama administration and its allies have been hesitant to hand over weapons such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to a decentralized rebel force that lacks a central command and includes Islamic extremists and al-Qaida sympathizers.

In the interview, Assad also repeated previous assertions that he has no intention of leaving Syria despite demands that he relinquish power.

"I am Syrian. I'm made in Syria," Assad said. "I have to live in Syria and die in Syria."

Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, various disparate elements of the Syrian opposition were struggling to form a coalition that could serve as a government-in-exile and facilitate aid from allies in the West and the Arab world.

New disagreements have reportedly emerged in five days of talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.

Opponents of Assad have bickered for months about fundamental issues such as whether armed insurrection was the correct path, the role of religion in a new Syria and future representation of the nation's many minorities, including Christians, Kurds and Alawites — the sect that includes Assad and his top security chiefs.

Bringing the diverse opposition coalition under a single umbrella group has proved difficult, though participants in Doha expressed confidence a unified opposition body will emerge this week.

"I'm sure we shall find the best solution to create a leadership that can face its challenges and do the best for the Syrians in these difficult times," a leading dissident, Riad Seif, said.


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