Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad is insisting that he still has the support of the Syrian people and army, even as violence raged on and reports emerged that more of his military officers defected to Turkey.
In portions of an interview aired Friday by Russia Today television, President Assad acknowledged that "divisions" exist within his country. But he denied that the 19-month uprising against him is a civil war.
"The problem is not between me and the people," insisted Assad. "I do not have a problem with the people because the United States is against me and the West is against me and many other Arab countries, including Turkey, which is not Arab of course, is against me. If the Syrian people are against me, how can I be here?"
As Syrian government forces pounded rebel targets across the country Friday, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported that at least 26 military officers, including two generals and 11 colonels, fled across the border. Turkish officials also say more than 8,000 Syrians fled violence in Syria since Thursday, bringing the total number of refugees in Turkey to around 120,000.
Meanwhile, Syria's fractured opposition meeting in Qatar were reported to be near an agreement on the formation of an inclusive government-in-waiting that would allow for more coordinated action against Assad's government. Several participants in the talks, which include the Syrian National Council (SNC), Islamists, leftists, and secularists, reported progress, saying a new leadership could be agreed upon by Friday.
The opposition hopes new leadership will attract international support for the rebel uprising. The U.S. has said the SNC, the main group in exile, cannot be considered as the legitimate leader and called for the opposition to firmly reject infiltration by Islamist militants in the fight to oust Assad.
Safe haven offer rejected
President Assad, meanwhile, firmly rejected offers to accept safe haven outside his country. In portions of the interview that aired Thursday on Russia Today, the 47-year-old leader promised to "live and die in Syria."
British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested earlier this week that Assad could be allowed safe passage if that would guarantee an end to the country's civil war.
The Syrian conflict, which began as a protest movement against the rule of President Assad, is entering its 20th month. An estimated 36,000 people have died as the government crackdown against protesters developed into a full-blown civil war.