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Al-Assad: 'Syria will not bow down'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:40 PM EST, Sun November 20, 2011
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rally in Damascus on Sunday.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rally in Damascus on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The Local Coordination Committees say 12 are killed in violence
  • Officials say Arab League representatives will meet again to discuss Syria Thursday
  • The Arab League rejects Syria's proposed changes to a plan to send observers to Syria
  • Syria's foreign minister says clarifications are needed to the Arab League's observer plan

(CNN) -- Officials sparred Sunday over a proposed plan to send observers into Syria as the nation's president warned against military intervention.

In an interview with the Sunday Times in the United Kingdom, President Bashar al-Assad warned that any potential military intervention against his country would lead to "very dire" repercussions, and said that Syria "will not bow down" despite international threats of economic sanctions over the government's crackdown on protesters.

He accused the Arab League, which recently suspended Syria's membership, of helping pave the way for western intervention.

"If they are logical, rational and realistic, they shouldn't do it because the repercussions are very dire," he said. "Military intervention will destabilize the region as a whole, and all countries will be affected."

Meanwhile, Syria's foreign minister said an Arab League plan to send observers into his country needed clarification before Syria would sign on.

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"I would like to make the situation clear between us so that ... a proper decision is taken. The situation does not bear or require hastiness or reaction," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters, urging the Arab League to take more time to develop a plan that the organization's foreign ministers approved last week. "It requires a study that is rational, because clearly any analysis shows that some Arab parties want to use the Arab League as a tool to get to the (United Nations) Security Council."

Earlier Sunday, the Arab League said it had rejected changes Syria proposed to the plan. The league said in a statement that Syria's request "impinges on the core of the Arab peace plan" and would "radically" alter the observers' mission.

On Wednesday, Arab League foreign ministers gave Damascus three days to implement a protocol to allow observers to enter the nation to verify whether the regime has taken measures to protect civilians. The league's statement Sunday said it had no mandate to further negotiate its with Syrian officials.

Arab League representatives will meet again Thursday in Cairo to discuss the situation in Syria, officials from the foreign ministries of Egypt and Jordan said.

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Syria's foreign minister Sunday criticized the Arab League's stance on Syria and repeated claims that "armed groups" -- not government security forces -- were responsible for violence.

"The Arab League, they ignore the presence of armed groups, the terrorist armed groups who kill the people, and if they would recognize the presence of such groups they would not have conducted themselves in the way they are behaving," he said. "I would say, and I am confident of what I am saying, there will not be civil war however much they try to manufacture it, and our people are aware enough in order to get rid of such a division."

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said "huge masses" of Syrians rallied in the capital to reject the Arab League stance on their country.

Activists said rocket-propelled grenades had hit the ruling Baath Party's headquarters in Damascus. Moallem told reporters that report was "completely untrue."

CNN was not able to confirm the reports independently because of the restrictions Damascus places on foreign journalists.

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The Syrian president faces increasing international pressure to step aside as his government continues an eight-month crackdown on the opposition.

The United Nations has said more than 3,500 people have been killed in the violence. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists, said 12 people were killed on Sunday.

Al-Assad disputed reports that thousands of civilians have been killed. His office placed the actual number at 619.

"We, as a state, do not have a policy to be cruel with citizens," he told the Times. "The important thing is to look for the wrongdoers and hold them responsible for their actions."

Al-Assad told The Sunday Times that recent attacks on the Syrian army showed he was facing armed fighters, not peaceful demonstrators.

"The conflict will continue, and the pressure to subjugate Syria will continue," he told the newspaper. "Syria will not bow down."

Al-Assad vowed he would personally fight and die to resist foreign forces, according to the Times.

When asked how he felt seeing images of children shot, al-Assad told the Times, "Like any other Syrian, when I see my country's sons bleeding, of course I feel pain and sorry. Each spilt drop of blood concerns me personally. But my role as president is in deeds, not words and sorrow. My role is to think about the steps I should take to prevent more bloodshed."

Protesters in Syria are demanding al-Assad's ouster and democratic elections. Al-Assad has been in power since 2000. His father, Hafez, ruled Syria for three decades.

In his interview with the Times, al-Assad said he intends to hold elections early next year.

"We're going to have a new parliament. After that, we're going to have a new government. We're going to have a new constitution. That constitution will set the basis of how to elect a president," he said, adding he would step aside if he lost a presidential election.

CNN's Kareem Khadder, Saad Abedine, Caroline Faraj and Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.

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