A confident Bashar Assad warns Israel

BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview broadcast yesterday that he is "confident in victory" in his country's civil war, and he warned that Damascus would retaliate in kind to any future Israeli airstrike on his territory.

Assad also told the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar that Russia has fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but he was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defense systems.

The Syrian president's comments were in line with a forceful and confident message the regime has been sending in recent days, even as the international community attempts to launch a peace conference in Geneva, possibly next month. The strong tone coincided with recent military victories in battles with armed rebels trying to topple him.

Assad's interview was broadcast as Syria's main political opposition group appeared to fall into growing disarray.

The international community had hoped the two sides would start talks on a political transition. However, the opposition group, Syrian National Coalition, said earlier yesterday that it would not attend a conference, linking the decision to a regime offensive on the western Syrian town of Qusair and claiming hundreds of wounded people were trapped there.

Assad said that he has been confident from the start of the Syria conflict more than two years ago that he would be able to defeat his opponents.

Taking a tough line, he also warned that Syria would strike back hard against any future Israeli airstrike.

Earlier this month, Israel had struck near Damascus, targeting suspected shipments of advanced weapons purportedly intended for Hezbollah. Syria did not respond at the time.

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